By GARRY RAYNO,
CONCORD — The state Department of Transportation will wait for new survey information from Northern Pass Transmission developer Eversource before moving forward on requests to bury sections of the 192-mile line under state roads.
The agency’s Utility Accommodation Manual forbids utilities to place their lines or pipes or other structures under state or federal roads, but allows for exceptions if hardships exists.
Eversource applied for a blanket exception as part of its original application in October 2015, said Eversource Vice President of Engineering Kenneth Bowes, which is done in other states.
But when the Department of Transportation issued its conditional approval in April, one of the conditions was a case-by-case determination for exceptions and introduced an exception process for the company to follow.
After that decision, Eversource applied for nearly 190 exceptions for the 60 miles of buried line for the $1.6 billion project to transport Hydro-Quebec electricity to southern New England. A number were withdrawn or are no longer needed with 118 requests currently submitted including 20 that have been approved.
Ledges, steep slopes, close proximity of buildings or a narrow right-of-way could be reasons the developer believes it needs to bury the line and work boxes under the pavement.
However the process has been suspended until the company more clearly defines the boundaries of the DOT right-of-way the utility would use for the buried transmission line.
A May letter said the developer did not provide a certified survey report with “accurate locations defined by ground survey” required under the conditions stipulated by the department in April.
Attorney Thomas Pappas, representing the Counsel for the Public, noted the agency rejected a number of the company’s requests because of what are essentially only estimates of the right-of-way boundaries.
Samuel Johnson, project manager, said the project has begun working to better define the boundary by seeking more documentation and field work and expects the work, which began Monday, to take six to eight weeks.
The agency is expected to formally approve a plan for the additional surveying next Monday, he said, and when the work is finished will present the work to the department.
“The exception process begins with the location of the right-of-way,” Johnson said.
Attorney Amy Manzelli, representing the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, noted a number of the exception requests were rejected by the DOT because the location of the ROW boundary was at the lowest level of accuracy, which adversely impacts abutters.
“Clearly there were some errors in the original report,” Johnson said, and added the new survey work will lead to a more accurate description.
Pappas also noted the DOT rejected some requests because existing buried utilities were missing or in different locations, key monuments were missing or plans were inaccurate.
“Didn’t the DOT express concerns about the inaccuracies of plans,” Pappas said, “and expressed concerns if they should continue to review plans because they were so inaccurate?”
Johnson agreed with the statement.
Pappas showed a number of slides of areas where the transmission lines are to be buried under roadway including in Franconia where the line would go under the Gale River which requires large excavations for entrance and exit areas for “horizontal directional drilling.”
He noted the work would impact the intersection of Route 116 and Wallace Hill Road for 16 to 18 weeks or an entire summer season.
“The work area is right in front of that real estate office at the intersection in Franconia, is it not,” Pappas asked. Johnson said the work plan is being reassessed to lessen the impact.
Pappas expressed similar concerns about planned pits in front of a gas station and entrance to a mobile home park in Campton, and in front of a restaurant in that town, noting both requests were rejected by the DOT because of the interference.
Of the 60 exception requests reviewed to date by the DOT, the agency has approved 20 and rejected 40, Pappas said.
But Johnson said the department wants Northern Pass to resubmit the requests with additional information and they had not been “flat rejected.”
Pappas also reviewed other requests along Route 116 from Franconia to Plymouth needed because the roadway is narrow, or because of steep slopes and ledges along the sides of roads.
“Do you agree with me most of locations from Franconia to Easton to Woodstock and south where you want to go into the road is because there is not enough room, the slope is very steep or there are structures?” Pappas asked, and Johnson said he couldn’t comment on every one of the requests.
“There are some obstructions,” Johnson said but they have worked diligently to move off the road and there are opportunities to make some changes like moving telephone poles.
Several people yesterday asked why Eversource included burying the transmission line under road pavement in its design when the DOT’s Utility Accommodation Manual prohibits it.
“The manual requires utilities to be off the road and as close to the right-of-way as possible. Correct?” Pappas asked lead underground expert Nathan Scott.
“When you designed these sections did you know it was contrary to the requirements,” he asked.
Scott said he knew some portions were under the pavement.
Bowes and Johnson said the company has an agreement with the DOT on future road and bridge work requiring changes due to the transmission line.
“We will either move the line or pay the differential,” he said.
The construction panel will continue to testify Monday.
The 1,090 megawatt project was first proposed seven years ago. The SEC recently delayed making its final decision for five month pushing its deadline until the end of February, 2018.
The committee also added 31 more adjudicative hearings to be held at 49 Donovan St., in Concord from October through the end of the year.
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.
Garry Rayno can be reached at email@example.com