By GARRY RAYNO,
CONCORD — The local experience, credentials and conclusions of the historic preservation expert Eversource hired to assess the impact of the Northern Pass Transmission project were questioned Tuesday when adjudicative hearings resumed after a three-week break.
Both Counsel for the Public and the attorney for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests questioned the conclusions and assessments made by Cherilyn Widell of Widell Preservation Services LLC of Chestertown, Md., on the impact of the 192-mile, high-voltage transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield.
The attorneys also noted the Division of Historical Resources recently submitted an 11-page letter by senior historian Richard Boisvert noting much more work needs to be done as the original assessment missed a number of historic properties, historic and cultural districts, as well as architecturally significant properties and historic town centers.
The letter notes much more work will need to be done as the applicants and state and federal agencies work through the federal historic preservation process to mitigate and avoid impact to historic properties.
Society for the Protection of NH Forests’ attorney Elizabeth Boepple noted Widell’s work to assess Northern Pass’s impact on historic and cultural resources was her first in New England, and all of her other experience was in California, in the south and in mid-Atlantic region.
And Boepple asked Widell if she had ever done an assessment on a utility project that stretched for 192 miles and she said she had not.
“So your sole experience in New England as an historic preservation consultant is for this one client on this project and the Seacoast Reliability Project,” Boepple asked.
“This is not crazy science, it’s been done over and over and over again and began in the 1960s,” Widell said, and “we do it very carefully and thoroughly.”
Boepple noted in pre-filed testimony that Widell said the project’s impact would be minimized because nearly 100 miles of the line would be in existing utility right-of-ways.
Wouldn’t new, larger steel structures in that right-of-way impact historic structures, she asked.
Widell said it would, but the transmission lines have been in place for at least 60 years and in some cases 90 years. And the lines were often constructed on low-lying areas which helps to minimize the visual impact.
“That does not say there is none,” Widell said. “But that is exactly what we reviewed over and over again. That is exactly the type of things we looked at.”
Boeppe noted that near Widell’s home in Maryland she volunteers her expertise to testify on a proposal to say adding a new cell phone tower near a rural, residential historic district would have an unreasonable impact on that community although only 15 percent of the tower would be visible.
Widell said each property needs to be looked at, the characteristics and the setting. “And that is what we have done in a very careful manner over and over and over again.”
But Counsel for the Public Peter Roth took issue with the methods Widell and others hired to assess the project’s impact used and how thoroughly the evaluations followed state and federal guidelines.
Widell has repeatedly said she believes the project will not globally have an unreasonable adverse impact on historic structures along the project’s route.
“I am very much convinced there will not be an unreasonable adverse impact on those historic resources,” she said, but noted she has identified six properties where mitigation will be needed to minimize the visual impact. The Division of Historical Resources has identified several additional sites it believes will also need to be addressed through the federal preservation process.
Roth focused on Whitefield’s downtown commercial square saying Widell did not analyze or evaluate the visual impact to the district, which is eligible for national historic designation.
Instead, he maintained she shortcut the process to determine the square’s significance and integrity while doing a “quick and dirty” analysis of the visual impact.
Widell said the square’s views are not a defining characteristic and said it has already been determined to be eligible for the national registry.
Roth listed the criteria to determine a project’s adverse impact on a historic area, but stated nowhere does Widell’s work show that has been done.
“Rather than determine the project would not diminish the integrity of King’s Square,” Roth said, “you say the buildings face one another so view is not a distinguishing characteristic.”
She said the first step is to identify the defining characteristic of a historic property and that is what you use to determine if there is any adverse impact. In the central business, there are not significant views, she said.
The experts’ assessment on the project’s impact on Weeks State Park and the Rocks Estate were noted by a number of questioners.
Widell said there would be some adverse impact, but it would not be unreasonable. Roth and Boepple disagreed, noting both properties had significant views, with Roth noting Widell found no unreasonable impact on historic structures anywhere in the state.
Widell said the park is considered to be part of a cultural landscape that will be considered under the federal preservation process.
But Concord attorney Danielle Pacik said the Department of Energy has not received the cultural landscape forms and not reached any findings.
The reports will not be made available to the parties until the department has determined its finding, she noted.
Hearings continue Wednesday but will end at 3:30 p.m. A public comment period will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at 49 Donovan St., Concord.
The developers hope to complete permitting this year with the line operating by the end of 2020.
Garry Rayno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
InDepthNH.org’s comprehensive coverage of the SEC hearings on Northern Pass.
April 13, Day 1: Eversource NH Chief Quinlan On The Hot Seat At Northern Pass Hearing
April 14, Day 2: Eversource Chief Questioned About ‘Clean’ Energy Claims And Northern Pass Costs
April 17: Day 3: Eversource: Hydro-Quebec Revenues Could Fall Short In Northern Pass’ First Year
April 18: Day 4: Northern Pass’ Potential Health Concerns Debated At Hearing
April 19: Day 5: Concerns Raised About Northern Pass Affecting Health of Sherburne Woods Residents in Deerfield
April 30: Is NH Getting ‘Hoodwinked’ on Health and Safety By Northern Pass?
May 1: Day 6: Testimony: 44 New Access Roads Needed To Build 192-Mile Northern Pass in NH
May 2: Day 7: Northern Pass Expert: 3 Months of Construction Likely In Downtown Plymouth
May 3: Day 8: Project Official: Northern Pass Construction Limited To 7 am to 7 pm, Noise Assessed Daily
May 3: Eversource’s Chief Quinlan Listed as ‘Host’ For Sununu Fundraiser
May 4: Day 9: Grafton County Attorney Grills Northern Pass Experts On Land Buys
May 5: Day 9, story 2: Common Man’s Alex Ray: Northern Pass Disruption in Plymouth Would Be ‘Fatal’ To Business
May 8: Forest Society Calls Northern Pass Inflated Land Buys a ‘Shell Game’
May 25: Hydro-Quebec Explores Opportunities in New England, New York
May 31: InDepthNH.org, NHPR Talk Northern Pass With John Dankosky
May 31: Day 10: ‘Frac-Out’ Water Pollution Possible When Drilling To Bury Northern Pass
June 1: Day 11: Applicant: Northern Pass Would Mitigate Impact On Endangered State Butterfly
June 8: Day 12: Counsel for the Public: Northern Pass Financial Expert’s Perspective ‘Unnaturally Optimistic’
June 9: Day 13: Portions of Northern Pass Hearings Held In Closed Session, Again
June 12: Public Statement Hearings On Northern Pass Begin June 15
June 13: Day 14: Analyst: Customer Using 300 kw Would Save $1.50 a Month With Northern Pass
June 14: Day 15: Regulator: Committee Could Consider Conditioning Approval for Northern Pass
June 15: Day 16: Speaking Out For and Against Northern Pass From Connecticut to Concord
June 16: Day 17: Forest Society Presses Environmental Benefits of Burying Northern Pass, Yale Responds To Critics About Land Leased To Northern Pass
June 21: Northern Pass Wants Controversial Yale-Bayroot Lease Kept Confidential
June 20: Day 18: Intervenors: Northern Pass Experts Failed To Identify All Impacted Wetlands
June 22: Day 19: Northern Pass Opponents Dominate SEC Hearing
June 23: Day 20: Northern Pass Seeks 15 More Hearing Days For Total of 57
June 26: Day 21: SEC Members Quiz Northern Pass Experts On Wetland Protection
July 18: Day 22: Northern Pass Expert: Project Wouldn’t Hurt Tourism
July 19: Day 23: Site Evaluation Committee Members Criticize Northern Pass Expert on Tourism
July 20: Day 24: Pessamit Innu, Lawmakers, Citizens, Businesses All Have Their Say on Northern Pass
July 21: Day 25: Deputy Solicitor: Northern Pass’ Tax Breaks Not So Great for Concord Property Owners
July 27: More Competition & Northern Pass Commits $10M To Help Low-Income Mass. Customers
July 31: Day 26: Public Counsel Grills Northern Pass Expert On Property Value Impact
Aug. 1: Day 27: Northern Pass’ Real Estate Expert Questioned About Data Accuracy
Aug 2: Day 28: Northern Pass Real Estate Expert Concedes Power Lines ‘Thin The Market’
Aug. 3: Day 29: Northern Pass Expert Asked How 1,284 ‘Significant’ Properties Pared Down to 6
Aug. 9: Day 30:
For more information about InDepthNH.org, which is published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, contact Nancy West at email@example.com or call 603-738-5635