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By GARRY RAYNO,
CONCORD — The attorney representing the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests challenged the Site Evaluation Committee chairman’s rulings limiting questions she and other intervenors can ask witnesses during Monday’s adjudicative hearing on the Northern Pass Transmission project.
“I do not agree with the limitation on questions we can ask, so we don’t have to keep doing this,” said attorney Amy Manzelli.
In March, project developer Eversource sought to limit what is called “friendly cross,” and SEC chair Martin Honigberg said the issue would be discussed later, and has promised a ruling before intervenors began presenting witnesses.
“The intervenors should expect that friendly cross-examination will not be allowed unless there is a demonstration it is necessary to a full and true disclosure of the facts,” wrote Honigberg in his September order.
The many intervenors — most opposed to the 192-mile, $1.6 billion, high-voltage transmission line running from Pittsburg to Deerfield — were required to file a list of witnesses they want to cross-examine and explain why, and the SEC determines whether an intervenor’s cross-examination is necessary to obtain “a full and true disclosure of facts.”
In August, Eversource again asked the committee to limit friendly cross-examination saying intervenors should offer proof they will not repeat points and not introduce testimony that should have been provided in written form.
That motion was denied by Honigberg, but Manzelli said Monday he may as well have granted the request.
Honigberg disagreed noting no one has been categorically denied the ability to ask questions.
“It’s all been done on a question-by-question basis proceeding consistently,” he said. “No one has been told not to ask any question.”
Many objections raised by the applicant’s counsel have been overruled and many sustained, he said.
But Manzelli questioned the consistency of his rulings saying he has been stringent with attorneys, and less stringent with public counsel and intervenors representing themselves.
“The first day of non-Northern Pass witnesses . . . several rulings were not entirely clear when they were made and are not clear over the course of time,” she said. “They are not consistent with all witnesses.”
Honigberg said before she went any further, she needs to put the concerns in writing so they can be reviewed.
Did Manzelli have more questions for the panel? he asked.
The hearings are under way, Manzelli said, and she did not want to put the proceedings on hold, but Honigberg suggested that she did want to delay the proceedings, but would not make that suggestion because it was “outrageous.”
Manzelli said the forest society does not want to delay the hearings, but she did want to place on the record the society’s objection to limiting the questions that could be asked.
Honigberg said Manzelli was free to make offers of proof about what would have been said had she been able to continue, but said concerns about inconsistent rulings are “not going to be addressed orally.”
The 1,090-megawatt transmission project to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to southern New England was first proposed seven years ago. The Site Evaluation Committee recently delayed making its final decision until the end of February.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org