By GARRY RAYNO
CONCORD — Methods to determine the number of scenic resources potentially impacted by the Northern Pass Transmission Project were debated at Thursday’s Site Evaluation Committee’s adjudicative hearing.
The landscape architectural firm hired by the Counsel of the Public faulted how Eversource’s visual impact expert developed the data base for scenic resources in view of the $1.6 billion transmission project to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to New England.
Terrence J. DeWan and Associates of Yarmouth, Maine, found the project would have little to no impact on scenic resources in the state, but T.J. Boyle Associates of Burlington, Vt., found the other company had downplayed the project’s impact and questioned the method it used to determine properties that would be visually impacted.
Of the 525 scenic resources identified within three miles of the route, none suffered high visual impacts, according to the DeWan report.
“We found significant errors in the applicants’ approach to identifying scenic resources, which in itself, renders the NPT (visual impact assessment) unreliable for decision-making,” according to the Boyle report. “In addition, our independent review of a selection of scenic resources found the visual impacts to be much greater than DeWan & Associates recognized; many were clearly unreasonable.”
Project developer Eversource’s lead attorney Barry Needleman used examples of more than 7,000 scenic resources initially identified by the Boyle group, noting many of the resources were businesses more than eight miles from the route and would be eliminated quickly from consideration.
He showed a picture of FunSpot in Weirs Beach.
Boyle president Michael Buscher said they were faulting DeWan’s methodology to identify all the potential scenic resources.
He said FunSpot was a component of the database his company developed of potential scenic resource sites. “We did not do an evaluation of scenic resources,” Buscher said. “We are providing an example of an appropriate way to identify scenic resources.”
He noted they did not visit all 7,000 sites to make an assessment.
Needleman noted many of the resources in their report were duplicates and some appeared multiple times, including the Pemigewasset River.
But James Palmer said the duplication includes brooks feeding into the river or recreation or conservation areas along the river.
He noted there was a great deal of duplication in DeWan’s report, including listing the Pemigewasset River in each community it goes through.
Needleman said to be a scenic resource the public needs to have access and showed a number of sites listed on Boyle’s data base that prohibits the public, including public drinking water facilities.
Did you conduct a site-by-site assessment to determine if these parcels are physically accessible? Needleman asked.
Buscher said they did not visit the sites to determine whether they were publicly accessible.
Needleman also questioned why Boyle included information people provided at workshops and public hearings in the data base for scenic resources.
“Do professionals in your field go about identifying scenic resources in this way at the local level or look to towns to identify them?” Needleman asked.
Buscher said Vermont does not look at scenic resources specifically, but looks at the overall visibility of a project and he noted likewise New Hampshire has a very broad definition of what constitutes scenic resources.
Needleman also explored the discrepancies between the work Boyle did for the Counsel for the Public and work for the U.S. Department of Energy for its Environmental Impact Study of the project.
Boyle did work for both the DOE’s draft and final report by DOE, but Palmer noted they did not write the reports, were able to check the information they presented for the draft report, but not the final one.
Needleman said the company found little visual impact from the project, according to EIS figures, but Palmer said those figures were for a smaller impact area, while a larger areas showed greater impact.
Needleman said their public counsel work shows 29 specific locations with unreasonable adverse affects from the project.
“How did you reach such different conclusions?” Needleman asked.
Buscher said the company was specifically directed by the DOE “to hold back from looking at specific sites and specific details. “There is a correlation, but we were doing different work and looking at different questions,” he said.
But Needleman said yet the company did a significant amount of work for the DOE including visiting all 120 locations where the overhead lines cross public roads, and Buscher agreed.
Earlier in the day, Needleman repeatedly objected to questions to the aesthetic panel by attorney Darren Connor, representing Counsel for the Public, asking the panel to assess the quality of work done by DeWan’s company.
Needleman said the issues should have have been addressed in supplemental filings or through other means and not through direct questioning.
He sited a ruling in the Antrim wind farm case and said the questioning is in violation of Site Evaluation Committee statutes and procedures as well as Eversource’s due process rights.
By permitting oral rebuttal testimony, Needleman said, he does not have time to prepare for its cross-examination, and instead has to respond “in short order.”
But attorney Tom Pappas, representing the Counsel for the Public, told committee chair Martin Honigberg, as the presiding officer, he has the authority to set the ground rules.
Direct questioning is the counsel’s only opportunity — given that the two sides filed written testimony at the same time — to rebut new information in the filings or in testimony before the committee. Otherwise there is no opportunity and that raises concerns about its due process rights.
Honigberg did not make a new ruling on the issue.
Eversource had hoped to have all federal and state permits by the end of this year with construction to begin next year and the transmission line finished by the end of 2020.
If it receives all its permits, project officials said earlier, construction could begin in April.
Garry Rayno can be reached at email@example.com
As a public service, InDepthNH.org 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.
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
Sept. 19: Day 39: SEC Chair: New Evidence Indicates Potential Inaccuracies in Northern Pass’ Burial Plans
Sept. 21: Day 40: Study: Granite State Power Link Bests Northern Pass On CO2 Reductions
Sept. 22: Day 41: Grafton County’s Lara Saffo Asks: Should Landowners Trust Northern Pass?
Sept. 25: Day 42: Panel Chair Accuses Intervenor Of Trying To Delay Northern Pass Hearing
Union Reps Tout Northern Pass Jobs
Sept. 26: Day 43: SEC Member: Northern Pass Could Cost Taxpayers More For Public Construction Projects
Sept. 28: Day 44: Testimony: Northern Pass Would Mean $7M in Tax Revenue to Franklin
EPA: Burying 40 More Miles of Northern Pass May Cost a Bit More, But Better for Wetlands
Sept. 29: Day 45: Northern Pass Construction Experts Questioned About ‘Inaccuracies’ In Burial Plans
Northern Pass: EPA Support for 40 More Miles of Line Burial Won’t Delay Wetlands Permit
Oct. 2: Day 46: Grafton County, Northern Pass Spar Over Sharing Burial Changes With Landowners
Oct. 3: Day 47: Plymouth Protesters Say No To Northern Pass as State Regulators Pass By Unnoticed
Oct. 7: Day 48: Les Otten: $5M Balsams Loan Required His Testimony For Northern Pass
Oct. 11: Day 49: Panel Presses Northern Pass Intervenors To Fill Schedule Gaps