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By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The Site Evaluation Committee that will decide whether Eversource can build the Seacoast Reliability Project decided Thursday that it wouldn’t have an unreasonable impact on flora and fauna of Little Bay or along the 13-mile proposed high-voltage line from Madbury to Portsmouth.
Of concern during the deliberative discussions on Day 4 was again the jet plow method of burying one-mile of cable beneath Little Bay, this time discussing the potential impact on natural resources.
“The impact on fish will be temporary,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, the designee on the committee from the Department of Environmental Resources. He went through a list of potential impacts on many species including lobsters, horseshoe crabs and others before the committee found no unreasonable adverse impact on natural resources.
The committee also weighed the potential impact of the project on the Bald Eagle nest that is less than 1,000 feet from the transition structure on the shore of the bay, discussed the impact on oyster farms within the estuary, and the possibility of releasing toxins that have been buried in the mud of Little Bay for decades.
The committee agreed previously that the jet plow method of cable burial is preferred over the Horizontal Direct Drilling method, which is much more expensive, but preferred by some intervenors.
Residents and leaders of Newington and Durham mostly oppose the project believing it will affect Little Bay’s water quality and negatively impact historic sites, property values and aesthetics.
Todd Selig, Durham’s Town Administrator, who represents Durham and University of New Hampshire as intervenors, said he was interested in the health and safety discussions.
“One of the issues that abutters have expressed concern about is the impact of electromagnetic frequencies on the health of residents who live near the line and whether that poses a problem or not,” Selig said.
After the committee decided the project wouldn’t have an unreasonable negative impact on water quality Thursday, members moved on to discuss health and safety and agreed there would be no adverse effect on health and safety either.
David Shulock, the PUC’s designee on the committee, said Eversource provided most of the evidence about the magnetic fields without a lot of information provided to contradict the applicant.
Eversource hired expert Dr. William Bailey from Exponent Inc. who opined to a degree of scientific certainty there will be no harm to human health, Shulock said.
Bailey also testified in the Northern Pass hearings before the $1.6 billion, 192-mile project proposed to run from Pittsburg to Deerfield was denied. Northern Pass, which hopes to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to southern New England, has appealed the denial to the state Supreme Court.
Several experts criticized Bailey after his Northern Pass testimony in a story by IndepthNH.org posted on April 30, 2017. http://indepthnh.org/2017/04/30/is-nh-getting-hoodwinked-on-health-and-safety-by-northern-pass/
Dr. Bailey declined to respond at the time and Eversource’s spokesman said, “Bailey is an internationally recognized expert in the potential effects of electric and magnetic fields…”
The seven-member committee has been methodically ticking off the box for each of the criteria laid out in the law needed to approve Eversource’s application to build the project.
So far, the committee has determined that Eversource has the financial, technical, and managerial experience to build the project. And agreed that it will not have an adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment or health and safety.
The committee must also tackle whether the project will impact the orderly development of the region and whether it is in the public’s interest. The SEC denied Northern Pass’ application finding it didn’t prove it wouldn’t adversely affect orderly development.
Eversource says the project is needed because of the fast growth the Seacoast is experiencing.
Prior to the SEC process, the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO-NE) identified an urgent need for additional transmission capacity in the Seacoast region and selected the Seacoast Reliability Project as the preferred solution to meet that need, according to Eversource spokeswoman Kaitlyn Woods.
Woods said the project will result in direct benefits for New Hampshire communities, residents and businesses – including the creation of local jobs, enhanced reliability for customers and increased property tax payments.
“The estimated $84 million cost of the project will be paid by all electric customers in New England,” Woods said. “For New Hampshire, the share is about 9 percent, which is equal to the state’s share of electricity from the regional pool.”
Members of the Site Evaluation Committee and the departments they represent deliberating the Seacoast Reliability Project include: Chairman Patricia Weathersby, public member; Elizabeth H. Muzzey, Division of Historical Resources; David Shulock, Public Utilities Commission; Charles Schmidt, Department of Transportation; Christopher Way, Department of Business and Economic Affairs; Susan Duprey, public member; and Michael Fitzgerald, Department of Environmental Services.
The committee will deliberate again on Friday and Monday at 49 Donovan St. in Concord. The public is welcome.