By GARRY RAYNO,
CONCORD — Intervenors affected by the Northern Pass Transmission project told state regulators on Wednesday how the new high-voltage lines would adversely impact their lives and properties.
The intervenors ranged from a couple abutting the current Deerfield transmission substation that will be expanded to connect the project to the New England grid to a couple who own large tracks of wetlands in the North Country, hoping to preserve the land for centuries to come.
Eversource, the developer of the $1.6 billion, 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, presented its case for the project with experts and supporters from April to the first week of October. Now the Counsel for the Public as well as intervenors and opponents are presenting their arguments.
“You have been listening to four months of experts and others who had something to gain from their testimony,” Attorney Arthur Cunningham, representing the Percy Lodge and Campground in Stark, told the Site Evaluation Committee. “My clients have everything to lose.”
The owners of the newly developed lodge and campground, were among those testifying in opposition to the project on Wednesday.
Eric and Margaret Jones of Glencliff own 750 acres of land in Northumberland and Stark bisected by the existing right-of-way that would hold the new transmission line.
Their land is part of a 2,300-acre area that is the largest fresh water wetlands in the state from Northumberland down to Lancaster, Eric Jones told the committee.
Wetlands cover much of the property, he said, and an important part of the watershed that drains into the Ammonoosuc River and then into the Connecticut River. About 90 percent of the right-of-way is wetlands, he added.
Jones said the proposed construction would do permanent damage to much of the wetlands and questioned some of the proposed construction methods Eversource intends to employ to construct the new transmission line.
When attorney Tom Pappas, representing Counsel for the Public, asked Jones to explain how the damage would be permanent, Eversource’s lead attorney Barry Needleman objected saying Jones was not a wetlands expert.
SEC chair Martin Honigberg allowed Pappas to have Jones establish his credentials. But when he began asking questions again about impacts to wetlands, Needleman objected again and Honigberg agreed prompting Pappas to ask if someone has to be an expert to testify and Honigberg said, “No.”
Jones also questioned why the state Department of Environmental Services approved mitigation a plan to replace destroyed wetlands that does not include constructing new wetlands in the same area instead of other locations around the state.
“Most people do not buy wetlands. We want wetlands to save for you folks and your kids,” Jones noted. “If our mission is stopped or blocked, why aren’t we compensated? Everyone is compensated but the property owner.”
He and his wife bought the property primarily to “regrow old growth,” by attaching easements that prohibit logging or development for several hundred years.
“While everyone else is chopping things down,” Jones said, “We are going in the opposite direction.”
Philip and Joan Bilodeau’s home on Nottingham Road in Deerfield abuts Eversource property where a new substation will be built to connect Northern Pass to the New England power grid.
Philip Bilodeau said a small substation abutted the property when they bought it 40 years ago and has been expanded since then but will more than double in size as part of the project.
Their home has a back porch where they sit and watch wildlife, he said, while a forest and hill shield their view of the current substation.
Eversource intends to level the hill and cut much of the vegetation, he noted, and construction plans include working six days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for 18 to 24 months.
The area is rural, Bilodeau said, while construction will bring heavy equipment, trucks and more traffic, noise and probably blasting.
“We enjoy the wildlife we see now, turkeys and such,” he said. “All the construction will clearly displace any wildlife in the area and replace their habitat forever.”
Committee member Patricia Weathersby asked Bilodeau if there were any conditions the panel could place on the project to address their concerns.
“I can’t see any conditions you could impose on building a 16-acre substation that it would not impact us,” Bilodeau said.
When asked if they had considered selling their home to Northern Pass, Joan Bilodeau said they had considered it, but decided against it.
“Not at this point in our life. . . This has been our residence for 40 years. We’ve invested a lot of time and money over the years,” Bilodeau said. “If we were younger we would probably pick up and start over, but not at this point in our lives.”
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. The Site Evaluation Committee is not expected to make a final decision on the high-voltage transition line until the end of February 2018.
If it receives all of its permits, project officials said last month that construction could begin in April.
Adjudicative hearings on the project continue Friday with the showing of a 21-minute video called “Negative Impacts of the Northern Pass Transmission Line” featuring North Country people speaking against the project. (see below)
People featured in the video are required to testify before the committee that they are indeed featured in the video done by Tim Shellmer.
Garry Rayno can be reached at email@example.com
Tim Shellmer video
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
Oct. 12: Day 50: Hearing Debate: How Scenic Resources Impacted By Northern Pass Determined
Oct. 13: Anti-Northern Pass Video To Be Shown At SEC Hearing; Featured Foes Must Testify
Oct. 16: Day 51: