By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Adjudicative hearings on the $84 million Seacoast Reliability Project upgrading electric transmission lines between Portsmouth and Madbury begin Wednesday and will continue into October.
The proposed 13-mile upgrade includes substation upgrades and a new 115-kilovolt transmission line connecting existing substations. The line would be in existing utility right-of-ways.
The projects also includes a one-mile buried section under Little Bay which is controversial due to Eversource’s preferred burial method and environmental concerns.
However, Durham, the University of New Hampshire and other intervenors want the Site Evaluation Committee to suspend the adjudicative hearings until final negotiations between the state Department of Environmental Services and developer Eversource are finalized.
Although the environmental agency issued its final decision Feb. 28, Eversource has been negotiating to modify or change a number of permit conditions.
Attorney for Durham/UNH Douglas Patch filed a motion to suspend the hearings until there is a final resolution.
“Proceeding with the hearings next week without any knowledge of what issues the Applicant and DES are discussing and how those issues will be resolved puts the parties to the docket at a distinct disadvantage and violates their due process rights,” Patch wrote in his Aug. 21 motion. “The Applicant’s submission of the April letter to DES regarding the DES final decision without providing copies to the parties to the docket makes a mockery of the process and violates the parties’ due process rights. Similarly, allowing the Applicant and DES to have discussions, after a final decision has been issued, without requiring that all correspondence be provided to the parties to the docket and without allowing the parties to attend any meetings violates the parties’ due process rights.”
Eversource objected to the motion, and in a filing Monday said the request is moot because Eversource has agreed to make both its construction and environmental panels available Sept. 17 or later for cross examination. The DES has agreed to a Sept. 7 deadline for its report on the final details of its Eversource negotiations.
Attorney Adam Dumville said in his filing that suspending the hearings “would disrupt the orderly and prompt conduct of the proceedings,” and intervenors do not have a right to be engaged in regulatory agency discussions.
Eversource asked that the motion be dismissed.
But late Tuesday the chair of the Site Evaluation Subcommittee on the Seacoast Reliability Project, Patricia Weathersby, rejected Durham’s and the University of New Hampshire’s request to suspend, but did order project developer Eversource to produce all documentation from its negotiations with the Department of Environmental Services since February when the agency issued its final decision.
Eversource seeks to have a number of conditions changed or modified.
The hearing begins at 9 a.m. at 49 Donovan Street in Concord.
On Tuesday, Patch shared documents from Eversource sent the night before detailing negotiations involving numerous conditions. Patch said the information is essential to all intervenors and adds further proof the hearings need to be delayed.
The project was first proposed in 2015 after the Independent System Operator determined the Seacoast area needed a transmission system upgrade to increase capacity. The application was filed with the SEC in April 2016.
On July 1, Eversource released a report saying the “jet plow” method would be preferable to Horizontal Directional Drilling which would bury the cable deep beneath Little Bay.
The report said the jet plow method would have “minimal impact on the environment, the least disruption on area residents and properties, the lowest cost, the shortest schedule and is the most appropriate method.”
But the proposal has raised concerns about the Little and Great bays’ fragile ecosystem.
In a comment filed Tuesday with the SEC, Mary Ann Krebs of Durham noted the project would destroy the Bald Eagle nesting site on Great Bay.
“It is ironic that their project proposal will destroy the living symbol of the United States of America,” Krebs writes. “Of course, the proposal will also have a profound negative impact on the Great Bay itself with the disturbance of sediment in the bay which will cause so much destruction to the habitat that we have been trying to restore for years and years.”
Several other sections of the 13-mile route will be buried as well: the section that crosses Main Street in Durham and the UNH campus and along the Frink Farm in Newington.
As a “reliability project” the cost of the project would be borne by all New England ratepayers.
The adjudicative hearings are scheduled to end Oct. 17 and public deliberations are scheduled to begin Nov. 15.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org