The U.S. Forest Service has released its Draft Record of Decision (ROD) recommending that the agency issue a special use permit allowing Northern Pass Transmission to bury approximately eleven miles of transmission lines in areas along existing roads through the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF).
The Draft ROD represents another significant step forward for Northern Pass in the permitting process, and comes on the heels of the Final Environmental Impact Statement released by the U.S. Department of Energy last month – both highlighting the soundness of the proposal and the benefits to New Hampshire and the region.
“This proposed decision by the U.S. Forest Service continues to move Northern Pass forward so that it will have all necessary state and federal permits to begin construction by mid-2018,” Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan said. “It is consistent with the key findings of other permitting agencies, including the Department of Energy, the NH Department of Environmental Services and the NH Department of Transportation.”
The Draft ROD is the culmination of seven years of review and extensive public input. In 2015, Northern Pass announced an improved route that included 52 additional miles of underground to avoid any potential view impacts in and around the WMNF or along the Appalachian Trail. The Draft ROD supports the project’s conclusion that burial along Interstate 93 is not a reasonable alternative, and states that the improved route “is a reasonable way to transmit electrical power through the WMNF in a minimally impactful way when considering all available alternatives.”
The following excerpts are from the Draft ROD:
- “I fully understand and acknowledge that there will be short-term, construction-related, impacts to natural and cultural resources on the WMNF, visitors to the area, and private lands/properties located along NH Routes 112 and 116. My decision does not ignore or make light of these effects. I believe the intensity and duration of these effects is more than outweighed by the benefits associated with bringing additional hydropower to the New England grid.”
- “I believe that the technology is comprehensive, and that the Applicant possesses the ability to effectively construct, operate, and maintain the line underground…Since these alternatives bury the line on the WMNF, instead of the initial proposal for overhead lines, I believe the tradeoffs and environmental impacts to the National Forest and connected areas under Alternatives 4c and 7 are reasonable.”
- “…the alternatives utilizing I-93 are not consistent with my understanding of NHDOT policies…Therefore, I did not select alternatives that buried the transmission line across the WMNF in the I-93 corridor.“
The Forest Service also notes that the project will increase the reliability of New England’s power supply, by reducing reliance on imported natural gas; help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with public policy goals and the New Hampshire Climate Action Plan; and, provide “meaningful benefits to air quality” in the White Mountain National Forest.
“Meeting long-term energy needs in a sustainable, secure, and cost-effective manner for this region of the country is certainly in the public’s interest,” the Forest Service states.
In the coming weeks, Northern Pass will continue to review the specifics contained in the Draft ROD.
Recent Project Milestones include:
- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has finalized a Programmatic Agreement (PA) regarding Northern Pass that prescribes the steps necessary to complete the federal and state agency review of historic and archeological resources, including addressing any adverse effects.
- The U.S. Department of Energy issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Northern Pass, concluding that the proposed route is the “preferred alternative,” that the project provides substantial benefits, and will result in only minimal impacts
- Eversource, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Quanta Services, Inc., and ABB Inc. finalized a comprehensive Project Labor Agreement
- The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (NH PUC) has approved a request by Northern Pass to cross public waters and public lands
- The NH PUC determined that Eversource has the legal authority to lease its existing rights-of-way to Northern Pass
- The NH Site Evaluation Committee (NH SEC) completed the “discovery phase” of the permitting process, which involved nine months of data requests, document production and technical sessions. The final phase of the state permitting process began in April with the commencement of final adjudicative hearings. The hearings are the last step in the state siting process before the NH SEC makes its decision on Northern Pass
- The New Hampshire Department of Transportation issued its final report to the NH SEC recommending approval of the project
- The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) issued four key approvals of the project, pertaining to the Wetland, Shoreland and Alteration of Terrain permits, and the 401 Water Quality Certificate. The approvals are essential components of the state siting process being conducted by the NH SEC and, per DES, mark the conclusion of the agency’s review of the project’s siting application