Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Battle Of Northern Pass: NHSEC Asked To Suspend Proceedings Over Inaccuracies In Plans

The Battle Of Northern Pass: NHSEC Asked To Suspend Proceedings Over Inaccuracies In Plans

NHDOT Rejects Northern Pass ROW Survey*

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
August 23, 2017

The Grafton County Commission is asking the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee to suspend its Northern Pass proceedings until the company submits accurate plans and resolves uncertainty about rights-of-way for the burial of lines under state highways.

At the same time, the N.H. Department of Transportation has rejected survey reports prepared by Northern Pass contractors requiring certification that the right-of-way (ROW) lines shown on the plans are accurate locations defined by ground survey and research.

“As stated … from the Bureau of Right of Way, neither of the reports submitted have met that requirement,” NHDOT engineer Melodie Esterberg wrote Northern Pass on Aug. 11. “It is critical that the ROW information on the plans is accurate as this is the basis for the Department to evaluate the proposed alignment of the [Northern Pass line] as it relates to the Department’s infrastructure.”

Additionally, in what is increasingly shaping to be a potential legal challenge, a growing number of towns are voicing concerns about Northern Pass claiming the right-of-way (ROW) width it needs to install underground transmission line could extend to and impact private property along the roads.

“For the accuracy of the plans to still be questioned by none less than the Department of Transportation after the construction panel has allegedly finished testimony is stunning,” Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo, representing the GCC, wrote to the NHSEC.

In a 41-page motion with exhibits, Saffo said Northern Pass has submitted what appears to be more than 100 exception requests for its project, each significant and including exceptions pertaining to ROWs.

“The July 18, 2017 minutes, posted on Aug. 2, 2017, reflect DOT concerns about the accuracy of the diagrams provided by Northern Pass,” she wrote the NHSEC.

Quoting the meeting minutes, Saffo said, “Esterberg noted that these errors make Department personnel wonder about the accuracy of existing facilities and the right-of-way. Maintenance and Design Services personnel have been told to make NPT review a priority, but errors and inaccuracies are making the review take longer and diverting resources from personnel’s normal job responsibilities hinders highway maintenance and project development activities.”

She also asks the NHSEC to recall the construction panel to address the viability of the exception requests.

“[Northern Pass] cannot complain that deadlines are not being met when [it] continues to change the design of the project, adds exception requests and submits plans that have inaccuracies, necessitating DOT to now question ‘the accuracy of existing facilities and the right-of-way throughout the entire route,’” said Saffo.

In an objection to the GCC’s request to suspend NHSEC hearings, Northern Pass attorney Thomas Getz said the county commission’s pleading is without merit because it “continues to misapprehend the permitting role of the DOT in the SEC process” and the DOT process has been developed in a way that allows an applicant to refine its design over time and conform it to DOT’s specific requests.

But those changes are not sitting well with local towns.

On July 17 and July 31, respectively, the towns of Easton and Franconia wrote NHDOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan, requesting she enact RSA 228:35, the statute on the reestablishment of highway boundaries.

On Monday, Bethlehem joined the two towns in petitioning Sheehan to enact the RSA to reestablish lost or uncertain ROWs along the North Country state roads that would be impacted. The line is proposed for burial under Routes 302 and 116 in Bethlehem and Routes 116 and 18 in Franconia and Easton.

In the Bethlehem letter, concerns were expressed that underground transmission line infrastructure could involve removing stone walls, trees, lawns, fences and gardens that private property owners believe are outside the ROW.

The ROWs aren’t clearly established and there are undetermined widths, Cheryl Jensen, chair of the Bethlehem Conservation Commission and the town’s liaison for Northern Pass matters, said to selectmen Monday.

“Property owners don’t understand the ramifications this could have on their properties,” she said.

In an Aug. 8 response to the town of Easton, Sheehan said the formal reestablishment of the ROW through RSA 228:35 is typically only considered when, after thorough investigation, the location of the ROW is not defined or there are questions about it.

NHDOT is currently requiring Northern Pass to complete a survey report that will document and define the types of ROW on the segments where the project would be within state roads, she said.

“The survey report must compile this information and be completed to the DOT’s satisfaction,” wrote Sheehan. “Northern Pass has not provided this information in a satisfactory format at this time.”


NHDOT's rejection of NPT's right-of-way survey (8/11/2017) is here. The DOT's overall page on Northern Pass, including NPT's 122 requests for exceptions to DOT's rules, is here.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

SEC Site Visit to Franconia: Disappointing (7/28/2017)

Franconia Site Visit: NHSEC Arrives Early, Disappoints Northern Pass Opponents

NHSEC Wraps Up Two Days Of North Country Site Visits Friday

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record 
July 29, 2017

Hoping to make a statement to the committee that will decide if Northern Pass will be approved, dozens of orange-clad opponents were disappointed Friday after members of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee made their site visit more than an hour earlier than scheduled. (Photo by Robert Blechl)

FRANCONIA — Seeing it as an opportunity when they could almost be face to face, opponents of Northern Pass were hoping to make a statement to members of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, which made a site visit Friday afternoon.

Instead, NHSEC members arrived more than an hour before their scheduled visit in Franconia and were gone after about 10 minutes, before virtually all of the several dozen opponents, wearing orange and some holding “No To Northern Pass” signs, arrived.

“We were going to be polite,” said Lisa Cutler, of Easton, who, with her husband, Ned, chair of the Easton selectboard, arrived a half hour before the estimated 2:15 p.m. visit by the NHSEC.

The committee is visiting portions along the Northern Pass route to study the impact the proposed transmission line would have.

As project opponents trickled into downtown, they were disappointed to learn of the early arrival. Some voiced suspicions it was a deliberate attempt by the NHSEC to avoid area residents turning out in Franconia, which has been a hotbed of Northern Pass opposition.

“To me, this is a public process and the public should see what they’re doing,” said Nancy Martland, of Sugar Hill.

The NHSEC should have visited to see not only what would physically be impacted by the project, but to see the people who would be impacted, said Kevin Johnson, owner of the Gale River Motel in Franconia.

“They avoided it by getting here an hour earlier,” he said. “It makes me question the objectivity of the committee and if they are interested in really weighing the pros and cons … People took time out of their day to come here.”

Two of them were Bob Sherburn and his daughter, Alyssa Sherburn, who run the Pinestead Farm Lodge, in Franconia, which has been in the family for generations.

“This is unfair,” said Bob Sherburn.

The Northern Pass line would run under Route 116, right in front of the main Pinestead farmhouse that regularly welcomes guests, said Alyssa Sherburn.

“This would really disrupt business,” he said.

Opponents favor burial, but many want a fully buried line, along Interstate 93, and not through downtown Franconia and Easton, where they say businesses would be hurt through two seasons of construction and ripped up roads, which they contend would also negatively impact residential properties.

The NHSEC is the entity that will decide whether or not to issue Northern Pass a certificate of site and facility, which is needed for the estimated $1.6 billion, 1,090-megawatt-capacity, 192-mile transmission line to advance. The NHSEC could make its decision later this year.

As proposed, the line would be all overhead except for 7 1/2 miles of underground line in Coos County and 52 miles underground from Bethlehem to Bridgewater.

Because they were on the road Friday, NHSEC administrator Pam Monroe and committee members were unavailable for comment and it was undetermined why the committee showed up more than an hour before their scheduled time in Franconia.
On Thursday, NHSEC members arrived in Coos County for site visits in upper Coos that included Pittsburg, where the line would cross the international border, and Clarksville.

On Friday, after visiting Stark and Weeks State Park in Lancaster, which would have views of overhead towers, they visited Bethlehem and Franconia, which, along with Easton and Sugar Hill, would have buried line along state highways.

According Kenneth Bowes, engineer for Eversource Energy, the parent company of Northern Pass, the traffic control at Routes 18 and 116, where the line would make a sharp right and cross under the Gale River, “is probably the more complicated of any of the locations along the route …”

At the moment, the big legal challenge that appears to be shaping up against Northern Pass in the North Country is the project’s use of local roads.

Last week, the Easton Board of Selectmen wrote Victoria Sheehan, commissioner of the N.H. Department of Transportation, to request that the NHDOT enforce N.H. RSA 228:25, the statute on the reestablishment of highway boundaries.

The RSA states whenever it is the opinion of the NHDOT commissioner that the boundary lines, limits, or locations of any highways become lost, uncertain, or doubtful, the commissioner can reestablish them the same as they were originally established.

“At issue here is a private project proposing to use public roads for a highly invasive project,” the Easton selectmen said to Sheehan. “Its size and length are unprecedented in New Hampshire and the majority of road abutters do not know what the road width is, and therefore are unable to defend their property rights, when they even know that there is an issue of unknown width.”

The Easton board members said many people assume that when the state took over the roads, it set a standard right-of-way width, but that is untrue.

“Abutters and travelers have a right to a clear determination of road widths, yet what is being proposed is a permit of a project which has not provided adequate proof of ROW widths,” wrote the selectmen. “Even with all the relevant information in hand, some roads on the proposed route were laid out without the width of the road being specified, so there is inescapable uncertainty about the road boundaries.”


See the companion piece to this post here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Route 116 (Franconia - Easton) Says NO to Northern Pass (7/28/2017)

Route 116 (Franconia - Easton) Says NO to Northern Pass

Site Evaluation Committee Site Visit, July 28, 2017

Read the companion piece to this post here.