Ex-SEC Chairman Varney Grilled As Northern Pass’ Land Use Expert

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Nancy West photo

From left, Pam Monroe, administrator of the Site Evaluation Committee, Dana Bisbee, attorney representing Northern Pass, and Robert Varney, Northern Pass expert on orderly development.

The intervenor group from Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartsown submitted this video as pre-filed testimony, but Northern Pass doesn’t want it shown during the adjudicative hearings that are ongoing in Concord.

By Nancy West

Day 35: Ex-Site Evaluation Committee chairman Robert W. Varney was grilled in his more recent role as Northern Pass’s expert on land use and orderly development after current committee members wrapped up their questioning of Terrence DeWan, the project’s visual impact guru, at Monday’s adjudicative hearing in Concord.

Still, there has been no decision on whether a video showcasing the breathtaking natural beauty of the North Country – much of it taken by a drone-mounted camera along portions of the proposed 192-mile route – will be shown to the current subcommittee decision makers. (see above)

The seven-member SEC subcommittee, including chairman Martin Honigberg, will ultimately decide by majority vote whether the state green lights the $1.6 billion plan to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity from Pittsburg to Deerfield, then on to the southern New England grid.

Still no ruling, either, on whether the subcommittee will order Northern Pass/Eversource to turn over to the public counsel the unredacted bid it submitted to the Massachusetts Clean Energy RFP, along with other legal wrangling that goes on long after the lights are turned off at the end of hearing days at 49 Donovan St. in Concord.

Winning the Mass. RFP bid is seen as critical to Northern Pass’s financial viability.

Varney is the president of Normandeau Associates of Bedford, which has been hired as Northern Pass experts. He previously served as the New England Regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Services.

“(There will) be no significant impact, permanent impact associated with the operation of the project,” said Varney.

There will be temporary impacts during construction, he said. “Based on the information I reviewed, I think they can be carried out in a reasonable way with minimal impact on adjacent land uses,” Varney said.

Under questioning by Thomas Pappas on behalf of the Counsel for the Public on Monday, it took a number of questions to get to whether Varney analyzed any one business or farm in any of the 31 communities that would host the project if it is approved.

Pappas: “You looked at the impact on each of the 31 municipalities that host the project. Is that right?”

Varney: “Yes, in a holistic way going from north to south for the entire project.”

Pappas: “I understand you didn’t do an analysis of any specific location within any of the towns. Is that right?”

Varney: “Well, I looked at the project through each community and it describes the prevailing land uses that the route is located in so it is specific in describing the route from north to south through each community and divided by community.”

Pappas: “But you didn’t take any specific location within any one town and analyze the impact on that specific location.”

Varney: “We describe the uses that were prevailing land uses along that corridor and looked at distances associated with various land uses as well.”

Pappas: “You didn’t take a specific location – a business, farm or a specific location and analyze any impact to that specific location.”

Varney: “No separate reports on specific locations.

Jason Reimers, an attorney representing the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, asked Varney if he did his analysis on orderly development in 2015 after Normandeau Associates had worked for Northern Pass for five or six years on environmental matters. Varney said that was true.

Reimers: “About how much money had Northern Pass paid Normandeau for its work?”

Varney: “I cant recall.”

Reimers: “Can you ballpark it?”

Varney: “No.”

Reimers: “More than a million?”

Varney: “I can’t recall. There was a lot of field work done in a short period of time. I can’t recall which year that was.”

Varney said his hourly rate was less than $600, but he wasn’t sure how much less.

Nancy West photo

Thomas Pappas, representing the counsel for the public, questions Northern Pass expert Robert W. Varney, who formerly chaired the Site Evaluation Committee, at Monday’s hearing.

Last day for DeWan

Visual impact expert Terrence DeWan was asked on his last day of testifying Monday why he included the Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield as a scenic resource even though technically there is no public right of access for non-guests.

He previously testified that private property and attractions like Santa’s Village wouldn’t be considered scenic resources because they charge a fee.

“There are a few places like (Mountain View Grand Resort) which I think are iconic in the state of New Hampshire,” DeWan said.

Although the public has to pay to enjoy some of the resort’s amenities, they can still walk around, sit on the front porch and feel welcomed, DeWan said.

A subcommittee member asked DeWan if the resort’s owner couldn’t ask people to leave the porch since it is private property.

The Mountain View Grand Resort opens its arms to the public, DeWan said.

He was then asked how that would differ from other places where people go to spend the night.

“That’s an interesting question that we debated long and hard …,” DeWan said.

Hearings will continue Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week, with four more next week, then 31 additional hearings from October through December. Intervenors will begin making their case after Varney is finished testifying for Northern Pass.


Northern Pass website
Site Evaluation Committee website
How The Process Works Before The Site Evaluation Committee

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
ay 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
une 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
une 15: Day 16: Speaking Out For and Against Northern Pass From Connecticut to Concord
une 16: Day 17: Forest Society Presses Environmental Benefits of Burying Northern Pass, Yale Responds To Critics About Land Leased To Northern Pass
une 21: Northern Pass Wants Controversial Yale-Bayroot Lease Kept Confidential
June 20: Day 18: Intervenors: Northern Pass Experts Failed To Identify All Impacted Wetlands
une 22: Day 19: Northern Pass Opponents Dominate SEC Hearing
une 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
uly 18: Day 22: Northern Pass Expert: Project Wouldn’t Hurt Tourism
uly 19: Day 23: Site Evaluation Committee Members Criticize Northern Pass Expert on Tourism
uly 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

Sept. 15: Day 37:

Visual Expert: Exactly Where 52 Miles Of Northern Pass Would Be Buried Still Unknown

For more information about InDepthNH.org, which is published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, contact Nancy West at nancywestnews@gmail.com or call 603-738-5635

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