By Nancy West
CONCORD — Northern Pass’s expert on the visual impact of the proposed 192-mile, high-voltage transmission line says he still doesn’t know which side of the road 52 miles of the project would be buried from Bethlehem to Bridgewater.
Terrence J. DeWan testified Friday that when he did his visual assessment two years ago, he believed the buried portion would be under the roadway.
But that has changed, according to Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo, representing the Grafton County Commissioners, who are intervenors in the case. Saffo said that option is off the table, although the applicant is still seeking exceptions. All but 60 miles of the line from Pittsburg to Deerfield would be overhead lines.
Saffo: “Do you know which side of the road (line burial) is going to be on?”
DeWan: “Based on conversations with design engineers, that’s a decision that’s not been made yet.”
Saffo asked DeWan if he knew that it would take space beside a road for the equipment needed to bury the line. Wouldn’t that require clear cutting trees and stone walls to make room for the equipment? she asked.
Saffo: “How do you do an aesthetical impact assessment if you don’t even know what side of the road it’s going to be on, never mind how far into the road you’re going?”
DeWan: “Based on the information that’s been provided to us….”
Saffo (interrupted): “Which is that they don’t know what side of the road it’s going to be on yet.”
Saffo: “So we’re now in September 2017 and we still don’t know if this project is going on the right side of a scenic byway or left side of a scenic byway.”
DeWan: “As far as I know, the final engineering has not been done.”
All of the adjudicative hearings that started in April have focused on Northern Pass/Eversource experts laying out their case in favor of the $1.6 billion project to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity through New Hampshire to southern New England.
Their experts have been cross-examined by intervenors that include citizens whose property will be impacted, businesses, the appointed lawyers representing the public, and organizations such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
On Friday, Martin Honigberg, chairman of the Site Evaluation Committee subcommittee that will decide whether to approve Northern Pass’ application, made it clear there will be little patience for any duplication of questioning, even by non-lawyer intervenors going forward.
Honigberg pressed several intervenors to get to the point of their questions faster and scolded one woman, Charlotte Crane, near the end of the day Friday for taking too long.
Crane is the spokesperson for non-abutting property owners with overhead lines proposed from Ashland to Deerfield. It took her more than four hours to finish questioning, Honigberg told her, much longer than planned.
“This is unacceptable,” Honigberg said before ending with “Miss Crane, please return to your seat.”
It wasn’t the only time Honigberg appeared exasperated by the pace of questioning on Friday. The subcommittee has had to put off its decision for five months – to Feb. 28, 2018, and added 31 more hearing days from October through the end of December because the hearings are taking more time than planned.
Gretchen Draper of New Hampton and Max Stamp of Bristol both attend most of the hearings representing the Pemigewasset River Local Advisory Committee, intervenors opposed to Northern Pass.
After Draper finished questioning DeWan Friday, Honigberg asked about Stamp’s line of questioning.
“Is there anything you want to do that is different from what Mrs. Draper did?” Honigberg asked.
Stamp finished his question. Honigberg said he was speaking to all of the groups. “We’ve gotten a little lax in requiring groups to specify what areas they want to cover, but that laxity is done,” Honigberg said.
“We lapse into covering the same topics with different people from the same groups and it’s not going to happen. It’s inefficient and we don’t have the time or the luxury.”
During a break, Stamp conceded it is probably fair to try and tighten up the questioning, but Draper said she didn’t like it.
“I really feel pretty outraged by the idea that people representing the public like us have to jump through other hoops – maybe cut down, maybe not be able to speak our piece,” Draper said.
Most people don’t feel comfortable coming to the adjudicative hearings in Concord, she said.
“I have been spending all this time listening to the spin of Northern Pass experts with so many people wasting our time because they basically didn’t know New Hampshire,” Draper said.
Jeanne Menard, representing the Deerfield abutters group, filed a motion to reconsider Honigberg’s Tuesday ruling that limits cross-examination, calling it an “onerous burden.”
Honigberg ordered each intervenor to produce a list of each witness or witness panel that they intend to cross-examine and include layers of information by Sept. 22.
“This order creates an enormous and onerous burden on each intervenor…,” Menard wrote. Thirteen intervenors concurred with her motion, she said.
The committee will determine whether an intervenor’s cross-examination would be necessary to obtain “a full and true disclosure of facts.”
Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said in an email that he expects the applicant will file an objection to the Menard’s motion and they have 10 days from the date of the motion to do so. Menard’s motion was filed Thursday.
Menard said intervenors must also fully participate in hearings before the Site Evaluation Committee, review and determine every fact and position the intervenor intends to present, and review prefiled testimony and other information relating to every remaining witness.
Her motion goes on to say intervenors must also determine whether every “position” in their testimony is consistent with their own and if it is adverse to their own, identify and state all of the reasons.
If the witness is not adverse, the intervenor must then identify every area of cross-examination, identify and state why every area of cross-examination is necessary and must do it all by Sept. 22, Menard wrote, making note of the fact that many intervenors represent themselves without attorneys.
“(Honigberg’s) order on friendly cross-examination is unfair, unreasonable and unjust. And it undermines due process for the intervenors,” Menard said.
It would also give an unfair advantage to Northern Pass with its “stable of lawyers,” Menard said.
“Adaptability, flexibility, and surprise are the very core of cross-examination,” Menard wrote, but Honigberg’s order forces intervenors to provide an exact roadmap of their case.
Intervenors are not delaying the process, she said.
“They are earnestly and legitimately engaged in the review of an unprecedented, complex project that spans 192 miles and involves multiple forms of construction in a varied landscape,” Menard said.
She proposed that Honigberg modify his decision and order the parties to reassess and resubmit any change in their time requests every two weeks going forward.
“This would allow parties to reduce the time needed based on cross-examination questions that have been asked. It also provides (Honigberg) with a more accurate view of the timing of the proceeding,” Menard wrote.
Northern Pass’ website explains the hearings process as follows:
The SEC holds adjudicative hearings to consider and weigh evidence. The
applicant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence
that a Certificate should be issued. Expert witnesses submit testimony under
oath and are subject to cross-examination.
Persons seeking to intervene must file a petition which demonstrates that the “petitioner’s rights, duties, privileges, immunities or other substantial interest might be affected by the proceeding.”
According to Northern Pass’ website: After an extensive adjudicative proceeding, the SEC will issue a Certificate of Site and Facility “if it finds that an applicant has adequate financial, technical, and managerial capability, that a project will not interfere with the orderly development of the region, that the project will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety, and that the project will serve the public interest.”
Eversource had hoped to have all federal and state permits by the end of the year with construction to begin next year and the transmission line finished by the end of 2020.
Members of the subcommittee that will decide Northern Pass by a majority vote are Chairman Martin Honigberg, PUC, presiding officer; Commissioner Kathryn Bailey, PUC; Dir. Craig Wright, Department of Environmental Services; Christopher Way, Department of Business and Economic Affairs; William Oldenburg, Department of Transportation; Patricia Weathersby, public member; and Rachel Dandeneau, alternate public member.
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: No End In Sight For Hearings on Northern Pass’ Controversial Plan
Aug. 29: Day 31: Intervenors Grill Northern Pass’ Historic Preservation Expert
Aug. 30: Day 32: Passionate People From Concord to Clarksville Speak Against Northern Pass
Aug. 31: Day 33: Panel Postpones Northern Pass Decision For Five More Months
Aug. 31: Committee Blasts Eversource For Late Access To ‘Crucial’ Northern Pass Agreement
Sept. 5: 31 Northern Pass Hearings Added; Delay Prompts Lively Facebook Exchange
Sept. 11: Day 34: Counsel: Northern Pass Expert Failed To Survey Public About Scenery Impact
Sept. 12: Day 35: Northern Pass Expert: Views Could Be Worse If Owners Cut Trees Along Route
Sept. 13: Day 36: Chairman Limits Upcoming Cross-Examination By Northern Pass Intervenors
For more information about InDepthNH.org, which is published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, contact Nancy West at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 603-738-5635