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By NANCY WEST,
The 10 stars of Tim Shellmer’s anti-Northern Pass video were sworn in together Friday to testify before state regulators how the proposed 192-mile high-voltage transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield will impact them, their families – and their cows.
Dairy farmer Rod Mcallaster, who milks 80 cows twice a day on his Stewartstown dairy farm, took the trip to Concord for day 49 of the adjudicative hearings before the Site Evaluation Committee. It was the first time in his 65 years that he headed anywhere south of Littleton.
“I’ve been too busy,” Mcallaster said in natural Yankee dialect when asked on arrival why he hadn’t ventured anywhere south of the notches before.
Of Concord, he remarked wryly on the “skyscrapers” and the size of the Dunkin Donuts. There’s one in Lancaster, he said, but it’s just not as big.
As a result, Mcallaster found some sudden celebrity and easily got the most laughs with his quick, dry wit of any witness before the committee that will decide whether to grant Northern Pass permission to go ahead with a $1.6 billion plan to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to the New England grid.
And these can usually be counted on as staid, predictable, tense-at-times, trial-like proceedings.
The large rented hearing room at 49 Donovan St. was filled with about 120 people Friday, far more than the usual crowd. There have been 48 prior hearings since April and more to come through the end of the year as the intervenors – mostly opponents – put on their case why the project shouldn’t be built.
Developers Northern Pass/Eversource Energy recently wrapped up their case, which had been ongoing since April. They say it will create jobs, help the economy and bring tax revenues to its 31 host communities.
Attorney Michael Iacopino, who represents the evaluation committee, asked Mcallaster if the date he filed his prefiled testimony was in November of 2016.
“It could be,” Mcallaster said.
Iacopino: “Do you swear that it is truthful?”
Mcallaster: “I suppose so.”
If asked, would Mcallaster’s testimony be the same today? Iacopino asked.
Mcallaster: “I would hope so.”
Mcallaster and nine other North Country residents who appeared in the 21-minute video “Negative Impacts of the Northern Pass Transmission Line” were required to testify in order for it to be played as testimony to the committee. The video, which was commissioned by intervenor Brad Thompson, was filmed by Tim Shellmer of Jackson, who was also present Friday for the applause it received after the showing.
Chris Aslin, Counsel for the Public, asked Mcallaster how the project will impact him and his farm.
The milk needs to be trucked out every other day, grain must be trucked in every two weeks and a cattle truck comes and goes weekly, he said.
If the road is closed as he was told it could be, there is a back way out with a four wheeler, but not passable for a big tractor trailer truck carrying milk, Mcallaster said.
Mcallaster said he was under the impression the road could be closed for weeks on end during construction that would ruin business and keep his two grandchildren, who live down the road, from getting to school.
A couple of years ago, Mcallaster said he was told at a public hearing that there would always be one lane open, but learned more recently from project testimony that road closures would be needed.
Mcallaster was later asked if he heard a proposal by Northern Pass to buy his milk and dump it if it couldn’t be transported.
“It’s kind of counter-productive, I think. We’re producing milk to feed people to get a living, a simple living. It’s work to produce.
“..If we don’t get the feed in to feed them, we won’t be dumping a lot of milk,” Mcallaster said.
Road closure disagreement
During a break, Northern Pass spokesperson Martin Murray insisted there will be no road closures, that Mcallaster’s road will always be open. Murray pointed to highlights in the testimony in which one intervenor who was opposed to the project agreed that it would bring jobs during the construction phase and some tax benefits to the towns.
But it was mainly road closures that Murray wanted to focus on and said repeatedly there will be none. He was also pleased that while on the witness stand, Mcallaster agreed to meet with Northern Pass officials after he testified that they had not reached out to him over the years.
Murray said Mcallaster had been under the false impression that roads would be closed, but now understands they will not be closed.
But a member of the construction panel seemed to contradict Murray’s statement. At the Oct. 2 hearing testimony about Mcallaster’s need to move milk out and feed in at his dairy farm, Northern Pass expert Samuel Johnson indicated there would be road closures.
Johnson said: “So I think the transportation of the milk away from his facility would either be rerouted if there are road closures or could be slowed down, if you will, as it goes through the construction zone.
“But permanently impacted, if it is shut down, if you will, that would only be for a very small period of time,” Johnson said.
The questioner then asked: “Regardless of what happens, he’ll probably at least have some temporary impacts where, for example, you may have to buy some milk from him or it will impact his operations. Would you agree?”
Northern Pass expert Kenneth Bowes, who also sat on the Oct. 2 panel, answered: “I think it’s possible. Yes.”
Counsel for the Public Aslin asked Mcallaster: “Did the applicant reach out to discuss road closures?”
In fact, he said, no one from the project has ever contacted him to discuss possible impacts on his farm. During cross-examination, Northern Pass attorney Barry Needleman produced two letters to Mcallaster from Northern Pass while he was being questioned by another Northern Pass attorney Jeremy Walker.
Mcallaster said he never received the letters that were sent in 2014 and another just recently. Later questioning revealed they had been sent to the wrong address.
North Country 10
The video panel included everyone who appeared in the video: Bradley Thompson, John and Cindy-Lou Amey, Donald and Diane Bilodeau, Jason Balint, Bette Guerin, John Harrigan, Dr. E. Martin Kaufman and Rod Mcallaster.
In the video, Bette Guerin testified as the owner of Fiddleheads, a shop on Main Street in Colebrook, about the impacts to tourism and local businesses.
“I don’t look at how it’s going to affect me as an individual. I think more as a community,” Guerin said. “When people come to our area, the first and foremost thing they come for is for visual grandeur and beauty of the locale.”
Dr. Kaufman testified how hard it would be to get out to see his patients or if he or his family needed medical care or if firefighters couldn’t get through because of road closures.
Northern Pass attorneys had opposed showing the video at the hearing, but subcommittee chairman Martin Honigberg issued an order allowing it if the 10 featured spokespeople testified.
Thompson testified that it was to show the committee the natural beauty of the North Country in areas where there presently are no transmission lines/no rights of way and the impact on Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown.
Jason Reimers, the attorney for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, asked John Harrigan of Colebrook what he meant in his testimony when he said Northern Pass uses New Hampshire as a “doormat.”
“Basically, I view this project as a pipeline, an extension cord” to get Hydro-Quebec power they desperately need to sell to market, Harrigan said.
Deerfield intervenor Jeanne Menard asked each of the 10 video participants if they agreed with Northern Pass experts that the project would not be detrimental to their property’s value. They all disagreed.
Cindy-Lou Amey chastised Northern Pass because of the sheer volume of printed material people would be expected to read to make an informed decision on the project.
A retired teacher, Amey said her students’ eyes would have glazed over at the book-case full of material.
She said she hoped the video provided information in a more visual, easy to understand way. When Chairman Honigberg interrupted Amey saying the comment was not related to the question she was asked, she responded:
“Excuse me, sir, but it was related…”
Amey told Honigberg that it had to do with the reasoning behind the video. Honigberg interrupted her and moved on asking if other members of the group had anything to add to their testimony.
During the afternoon session, Kris Pastoriza, a member of the Easton Conservation Commission who did a great deal of research on the construction plans, questioned attorney Steve Nix about errors in Northern Pass’ surveys.
Nix testified that the surveys by Northern Pass experts were inadequate and failed to meet basic surveying standards.
Pastoriza said Northern Pass had the information two years ago, but chose to drag their feet and cut the SEC out of the process and rely instead on the state Department of Transportation’s decision.
Dr. Kaufman testified that the impact of the whole seven-year process has been hurtful to many in the North Country.
“The impact of this whole process has on the community has been very negative in terms of turning people against each other. A large group stays together, but it’s been an incredibly divisive experience, a painfully divisive experience,” Kaufman said.
“Some people nod their head and don’t seem to care.”
Video Negative Impacts of Northern Pass Transmission
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: Public Counsel Expert: Northern Pass Doesn’t Reduce Scenic Impacts Enough
Oct. 18: Day 52: Folks ‘With Everything To Lose’ Testify Against Northern Pass