LACONIA — "Northern Pass wants to take shovel in hand. And dig a trench through part of our land," rhymed Philip Preston, a property owner in New Hampton, the lone town in Belknap County in the path of the project. "There's only one way to settle us down," he closed, "and that's to keep digging through every town."
Preston spoke to more than 100 people gathered at the conference center at the Lake Opechee Inn & Spa last night for the last of five public information sessions on the Northern Pass project, one in each of the five counties — Coos, Grafton, Merrimack, Rockingham and Belknap — where the project would be located. The sessions, are a required component of the permitting process conducted by the New Hampshire Site Committee (SEC), which will begin this fall.
Northern Pass, a joint undertaking between Eversource Energy and Hydro-Quebec, consists of a transmission line stretching some 192 miles and passing through 31 municipalities, from the border with Canada to the town of Deerfield, and carrying 1,000 megawatts of power generated by hydro-electric plants owned and operated by Hydro-Quebec. The transmission line would carry direct current (DC) some 153 miles from Clarksville to Franklin where a converter plant would convert the electricity to alternating current (AC), which a line of 34 miles would carry to the New England grid at Deerfield.
Eversource last month announced that another 52 miles of transmission line through the western reach of the White Mountain National Forest between Bethlehem and Bridgewater will be buried along state highways. With a stretch of eight miles between Clarksville and Stewartstown also underground, the company proposes to bury 60 miles of the 192-mile project. Some 400 of the more than 1,500 towers, between 90-feet and 135-feet high, would be eliminated.
The overwhelming majority of those present Thursday night echoed the thrust of Preston's verse that all 192 miles of the transmission line passing through 31 towns should be buried underground in order not to degrade scenic landscapes, impair natural environments and diminish property values.
The project includes 7.3 miles overhead transmission line In New Hampton, 3.5 miles criss-crossing I-93 in the north and 3.8 miles skirting the Pemigewasset River in the south. The towers carrying the line would range between 70 feet and 125 feet high with most 80 feet high.
Gretchen Draper, whose home is on the river, said that she has a "personal vendetta" because "I will be looking at a 95-foot steel tower out my front window." ,
Neal Irvine, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, spoke for the town, reading from a prepared statement. He dismissed promises of increased tax revenues and lower energy costs as "an attempt to put lipstick on a pig." He noted that while Northern Pass claims the town will realize more revenue from property taxes, past experience suggests that when utilities receive their tax bill they file for an abatement and take the town to court.
The town, as a steward of the state's natural resources, Irvine said, has a responsibility to protect the environmentally sensitive corridor along the Pemigewasset River, which it has done since 1987 by means of an overlay district. Northern Pass proposes to place a tower within the designated scenic easement for the river, ignoring significant archaelogical sites of historic and cultural significance.
New Hampton, Irvine described as a gateway to the Lakes Region and White Mountains, first glimpsed traveling north on I-93 at mile marker 73 where Northern Pass would erect three 100-foot tall towers. Likewise, he said that towers would obscure the vista at mile marker 71, where the line again crosses the highway.
Irvine referred to the draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the United Department of Energy, which after reviewing 11 alternatives, found that burying the transmission lines would impose the least environmental impacts, yield the most tax revenue and generate the most jobs while sparing scenic views and property values.
Preston put it this way: "Costs of burial they claim are too high. But they'll leave us with land that few will buy. It's the landowners who will bear the cost, while watching a sense of place being lost.
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