By Nancy West
CONCORD – Over Northern Pass’ objection, Site Evaluation Committee Chairman Martin Honigberg has ordered the project to recall its construction experts for limited cross-examination about “purported inaccuracies” and exceptions it is seeking from the Department of Transportation.
Tuesday’s order grants a motion filed by the Grafton County Commissioners in part by recalling the panel, but denied their request to suspend the adjudicative hearings in the meantime, saying they have already pushed ahead the committee’s final decision deadline to March 2018.
The Grafton County Commissioners, who are intervenors opposed to the project, filed the motion five weeks ago noting that Northern Pass filed numerous “exception requests” with the state Department of Transportation.
The requests ask to deviate from the requirements of the DOT Utility Accommodation Manual, which governs the installation and operation of underground utility structures, according to Honigberg’s order.
The commissioners also said that during a mid-summer meeting with DOT officials Northern Pass was notified that field reviews revealed several locations identified in the requests “had existing facilities that were incorrectly shown/described or not shown on the plans,” Honigberg wrote.
The commissioners also argued that DOT representatives raised concerns about the accuracy of existing facilities and the right-of-way as presented on the project maps, he said.
“In order to properly assess whether the (SEC) subcommittee has been provided with sufficient information regarding the exception requests, it is fair to require (Northern Pass) to recall all of the witnesses that participated on the construction panel for cross-examination on the limited issue of the progress of DOT’s review process,” Honigberg wrote.
“In addition, while the applicant claims that the plans as filed are sufficient for the subcommittee to exercise its review, there is new evidence indicating potential inaccuracies in the underground construction plans filed with the subcommittee,” Honigberg wrote.
Honigberg went on: “Considering that this information became available to the intervenors following examination of the applicant’s construction panel, it is fair and reasonable to require the applicant to recall its construction panel witnesses to address any inconsistencies discovered as a result of a review of the exception requests.”
Northern Pass had argued that the commissioners’ request was not supported by law. “Specifically, the applicant argues that the subcommittee’s process is independent of DOT’s process and that the subcommittee can carry out its statutory mandate and determine the impacts of the project based on the evidence before it,” the order stated.
Northern Pass/Eversource’s proposal to build a 192-mile high-voltage transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield has been the focus of the quasi-judicial hearings since April. Northern Pass plans to bring 1,090 mw of electricity from Hydro-Quebec through New Hampshire to the New England grid in the $1.6 billion project.
Robert W. Varney, a former Site Evaluation Committee chairman, who also served as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services and EPA regional director, is due back to finish testifying as Northern Pass’ expert on orderly development on Thursday after leaving Tuesday’s hearing early because of illness. He is president of Normandeau Associates of Bedford.
Jason Reimers, representing the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, cross-examined Varney on Tuesday morning.
Reimers: “Have you formed an opinion about whether the undue interference of orderly development in one town would result in undue interference of orderly development in the region?”
Varney: “I formed an opinion about the project as a whole and my opinion was that it represented orderly development for the region.”
Reimers: “You didn’t form an opinion about any particular community?”
Varney: “No. The SEC decision relates to the entire project.”
Reimers: “If for the sake of argument the impacts are minimized in areas of existing rights of way such as in Franklin, you would agree that minimizing the impact in Franklin has no relation to whether the project would unduly interfere with the region in Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartsown, wouldn’t you?”
Varney: “My opinion was based on the project as a whole.”
Honigberg has also ordered Cherilyn Widell, president of Widell Preservation Services in Chestertown, Maryland, to return for further testimony as well on historical resources relative to the project.
Kris Pastoriza, a member of the Easton Conservation Commission, was annoyed by the schedule changes and what they will mean for intervenors.
“Typical of the SEC process in the NPT docket, that intervenors are supposed to shift their schedules with a day or two of notice because of Applicant/SEC shortcomings, like an incomplete application that the SEC accepted, a political decision that now leads to the need for witness panel recalls,” Pastoriza said.
She went on to say: “Sununu is driving a project he knows nothing about. Have you ever seen him at a hearing?”
Pastoriza was also concerned “that the confidential cultural landscape reports, two large binders, were yesterday, for the first time, available to intervernors: left in the court reporter’s room for anyone to look at.”
She was referring to a room at 49 Donovan St. in Concord where the hearings are being held.
“Presumably they are draft documents not yet approved by (Department of Energy), yet intervenors are supposed to read them (at 49 Donovan, in our free time) to be ready to question (Cherilyn) Widell, NPT’s historical witness, next week,” Pastoriza said.
For much of Tuesday afternoon, the Site Evaluation Committee’s administrator Pam Monroe and attorney Michael Iacopino were scrambling to change the adjudicative hearing schedule.
Scheduling is no easy task since there are about 22 intervenors – individuals, businesses and groups with legal status to participate in the quasi-judicial adjudicative hearings. And many of the various experts live out of state and have already moved on to other projects.
More hearings will be held Thursday and Friday, then 31 more hearings will be held in October, November and December.
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
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
Sept. 15: Day 37: Visual Expert: Exactly Where 52 Miles Of Northern Pass Would Be Buried Still Unknown
Sept. 18: Day 38: Ex-SEC Chairman Varney Grilled As Northern Pass’ Land Use Expert
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