By THOMAS P. CALDWELL
LACONIA DAILY SUN
FRANKLIN — Acting City Manager Judie Milner says the city is “obviously disappointed” by the unanimous decision by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to deny Eversource’s application for the Northern Pass hydroelectric transmission project.
The state agency voted 7-0 on Thursday that Eversource had not proven the project would not negatively impact the orderly development of the region, one of four criteria the company had to satisfy.
Franklin anticipated significant gains from the project, which would have installed a terminal in the city to convert direct current from Quebec into alternating current that would feed into another substation in Deerfield before going into the New England power grid.
Eversource purchased the former Thousand Acres Campground, planning to use between 30 and 40 acres of the property for the terminal, investing more than $350 million for that substation.
Currently, the property is assessed at $617,200, which brings in annual tax revenue of $15,775.64 at the current tax rate of $25.56 per $1,000, Milner said. That would increase by an additional $5 million to $7 million a year if the project is completed – which would increase the city’s tax revenue by 50 percent.
“It meant a lot, and we’re hoping Eversource is going to appeal the decision, and we can move on with this project,” she said.
Milner noted that the city “didn’t bank on Northern Pass, and we’ve continued to focus on economic development, but anticipated that, once it became operational, we’d pick up that value.”
The SEC, whose membership is drawn from the Public Utilities Commission, Department of Environmental Services, Department of Business and Economic Affairs, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and Department of Transportation, with a representative for “the public” to ensure that all stakeholders were represented in the hearings, was holding the third of 12 scheduled hearings on the application when members abruptly voted to disapprove the application.
Key to their decision was the committee’s doubts about the project expert’s argument that there would be no impact to property values from the 192-mile transmission line, most of which would be above ground. The committee found no credible evidence from Eversource that that was true, particularly in light of the arguments by opponents of the project who said that the opposite was true and that property values were already declining along the proposed route.
For Franklin, however, the potential for increased revenue in a property-poor city is a gift it does not want to lose.
Franklin’s former city manager, Elizabeth Dragon, has represented the Three Rivers City as an intervenor in the process, and when Dragon left to become Keene’s city manager, Keene officials agreed to allow her to remain Franklin’s advocate for the project.
Milner said that, if Eversource does appeal the SEC decision, Franklin would want to remain an intervenor, but probably would need to appoint someone else to represent Franklin. She was unsure if it would mean a new filing or if the city’s current standing as an intervenor would carry over.