Grafton County’s Lara Saffo Asks: Should Landowners Trust Northern Pass?

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Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo showed photos of the type of construction equipment used to bury high-voltage cables similar to what Northern Pass is planning for portions of the 192-mile route for Northern Pass to run from Pittsburg to Deerfield. Saffo showed the construction photos and impact on local properties in Grafton County if the Site Evaluation Committee approves the plan.

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By Nancy West

Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo made her points about the impact on homeowners and businesses of burying 52 miles of Northern Pass cable from Bethlehem to Bridgewater by showing photos of various properties and the massive equipment it would take during construction.

They were intervenor Susan Schibanoff’s photos. She also showcased them.

Saffo also questioned whether property owners should trust Northern Pass after the project first told them the cables would be buried under the roadway and didn’t correct that information when it changed. Altogether 60 of the 192 mile high-voltage lines from Pittsburg to Deerfield would be buried; the rest would be overhead.

Saffo represents Grafton County Commissioners – intervenors who are opposed to the proposed $1.6 billion project by Northern Pass and Eversource Energy to import 1,090 mw of electricity from Hydro-Quebec to southern New England. She cross-examined project expert Robert W. Varney at ongoing Site Evaluation Committee hearings on Friday.

After the project objected to her original question about trusting Northern Pass, Saffo asked it as a hypothetical.

What should a landowner do if Northern Pass first said the cable would be buried under the road, then learned it wasn’t going under road, but in the existing right of way, but didn’t tell the landowner. “Do you think that landowner should trust them?” Saffo asked.

Varney said he didn’t know the context of the conversation or whether there had been any misunderstanding.

“… I can simply state that it is my understanding that the applicant has put a high priority on working with abutting property owners to ensure this project is carried out successfully,” Varney said, adding the project has a program to reach out to landowners.

Varney, who is now president of Normandeau Associates of Bedford, is the former regional director of the EPA, previously served as commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Services and was formerly chairman of the Site Evaluation Committee.

Example of underground splice vault that would be needed to bury Northern Pass cable along 52 miles in Grafton County. Lara Saffo said three have been identified so far along Route 116, but more will be needed. (See photos below)

He will continue testifying on Monday as Northern Pass continues presenting its case with intervenors trying to poke holes in their prefiled testimony through cross-examination, which is how the adjudicative process works.

Burying the cables along the 52 miles would also seriously disrupt commuters, especially along the 11-mile stretch of Route 116 where there is
no way around, Saffo said.

But Varney said there would always be one lane open during construction.

“The project is trying to minimize traffic impacts and they will work to make sure there is no unreasonable effect on local traffic,” Varney said.

Saffo asked Varney about the time needed for construction saying it would take 1,161 days just to do the trenching alongside the roads.

Saffo said her focus on questioning was on Bethlehem, Sugar Hill, Franconia, Easton, Woodstock, Thornton, Campton, Plymouth into Bridgewater and Bristol. Concord’s Deputy City Solicitor Danielle Pacik and other intervenors also cross-examined Varney on Friday.

Saffo also questioned Varney, whose expertise in this round of questioning is orderly development, about Northern Pass tourism expert Mitch Nichols’ testimony about the impact to New Hampshire as a whole.

Saffo: “So if Polly’s Pancake Parlor loses customers, it’s OK because they’ll go to a different restaurant in New Hampshire?”

Varney: “I believe he considered there could be some temporary impact, but overall there would not be a broad adverse effect on tourism.”

Saffo: “He didn’t say on tourism in Franconia. He said tourism in New Hampshire.”

Regarding traffic, Saffo said Northern Pass keeps touting a great traffic control plan.

Saffo: “You keep telling us over and over again, ‘don’t worry Northern Pass is going to come up with a traffic control plan’ and you’ve included that as part of your analysis…”

Varney said: “…There will be orderly development because we’re going to come up with these traffic control plans.”


Saffo said there are three known splice vaults so far planned along Route 116 and each one is in front of an area business. She noted where the splice vaults would be located with inlays of the construction equipment needed to build them.


They include in front of the Franconia Inn in Franconia, the Kinsman Lodge in Easton and the Tamarack Tennis Camp, also in Easton.  She also included photos of private property.


Concord’s Cross-Examination

Concord’s Deputy City Solicitor Danielle Pacik questioned Varney about the weight he gave to municipal testimony, an issue raised Thursday by attorney Steven Whitley for the municipal groups he represents.

Varney said he had reviewed all of the municipal input and Pacik quizzed him on his previous testimony.

Pacik: “…you start by saying as the intervenors who expressed concerns did not provide information to support their claims, we explored these issues further.”

Pacik: “In terms of the statement the intervenors did not provide information to support their claims, are you aware of all of the information the city of Concord has submitted in their prefiled testimony?”

Varney: “Yes, I am.”

Pacik: “Your position is that none of that information was helpful at all to support their claim of land use impact? Is that correct?”

Varney: “That’s not what I said. That’s not correct.”

Pacik: “You actually say they don’t provide information to support their claims. There’s just no information.”

Varney: “To support the fact that the project would be detrimental to future economic growth and development and provide a factual basis for why that statement is true. I did not see a substantive submission that demonstrated that in the body of information you just referred to.”

Pacik asked Varney if he was clarifying to say he wasn’t talking about impacts and concerns for land use, but rather to potential future economic development.

Varney: “That and again the question is both that and substantive information that locating a transmission project within an existing corridor is incompatible with existing land use and inconsistent with master plans and zoning.”


As a public service, publishes the websites for Northern Pass and its opponents at the end of every story along with information about how the adjudicative process works to site new transmission projects and our previous hearing coverage. Sign up for our free Friday newsletter  for Northern Pass and other news that matters in NH.

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.’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:, 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
Sept. 18: Day 38: Ex-SEC Chairman Varney Grilled As Northern Pass’ Land Use Expert
Sept. 19: Day 39: SEC Chair: New Evidence Indicates Potential Inaccuracies in Northern Pass’ Burial Plans

Sept. 21:

Study: Granite State Power Link Bests Northern Pass On CO2 Reductions

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