When it Comes to Northern Pass, Who Controls the Roads?

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The view from a video submitted to the SEC by the intervenor group from Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartsown.

Pittsburg Select Board Chairman Steve Ellis has asked municipal officials across the state to band together over the home rule issue of who controls local roads.

Ellis, writing on behalf of Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown, said Northern Pass is sidestepping local permission in its proposal to build a 192-mile high-voltage powerline from Pittsburg to Deerfield to import hydropower from Hydro-Quebec.

The towns are part of a group of 18 towns that recently filed a petition asking the state Site Evaluation Committee, which will ultimately approve or deny the controversial project, to resolve the issue of local control of roads.

The Ashland Water and Sewer Department, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and the Appalachian Mountain Club joined the petition as well.

Ellis’ letter asked mayors, councilors and selectmen in 217 municipalities across the state to back the petition and write a letter in support of local control to the SEC.

“Towns should not and cannot stand by and allow large out-of-state entities to usurp local control of town roads,” Ellis said in the letter. “As elected officials it is our duty to protect our citizens from any outside entity that arrogantly tries to use us for their own economic benefit and to our detriment.”

It’s not about being in favor or opposed the project, Ellis said in a phone interview. There is more at stake if Northern Pass is allowed to bypass local approval because it would set a precedent, he said.

“If we don’t have control of our town, we are not doing our job. I’m not saying we wouldn’t give our blessing, but let’s sit down and get more details,” Ellis said. “If they want to do that, they need permission. Come in and give us details.”

Northern Pass spokesperson Martin Murray said the project will submit a formal response to the petition.

“The overwhelming response we have received to our proposal to bury portions of the project under public roadways has been positive, and the project will submit a formal response to the Petition in a timely manner,” Murray said.

Ellis’ letter explains that the towns’ concern is over Eversource’s claim that they have the right to appropriate municipal transportation rights of way without approval from the municipal governing authority to build the transmission line within the right of way.

RSA 231:161 “clearly provides that municipal governing bodies have the exclusive authority to permit and license such uses of municipally owned rights of way,” he wrote.

Ellis went on to write that “Eversource lamely argues that a prior Supreme Court case with an entirely different set of facts supports their claim.”

“Whether one is for, against or agnostic on the issue of Northern Pass, it is the height of arrogance (not to mention against the law) for a large domestic utility partnering with a large foreign utility to commandeer for their exclusive financial benefit a municipal transportation corridor without the acquiescence of the municipality,” Ellis wrote.

Northern Pass’ application to the SEC has a single blank license form for the locations within the three towns where they propose to bury their facility along more than 8 miles of municipally maintained roads, he wrote.

The municipal petitioners include Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Bristol, Clarksville, City of Concord, Deerfield, Easton, Franconia, Littleton, New Hampton, Northumberland, Pembroke, Pittsburg, Plymouth, Stewartstown, Sugar Hill and Whitefield, Woodstock and the Ashland Water and Sewer Department.

Click here for Steve Ellis’ letter to 117 municipalities

Click here for petition to SEC seeking declaratory ruling

Click here for prior Supreme Court ruling