Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest Column: An Open Letter by Thomas N. T. Mullen to Governor John Lynch

Tom Mullen, Master Developer, Owl's Nest Resort and Golf Club, Campton, writes on the business, real estate, tax, and other economic impacts of Northern Pass

Greetings to all opponents of the Northern Pass,

Here is the message I plan to give to Governor Lynch and other decision makers in the Northern Pass permitting process.

The attempt by Northern Pass LLC to bring a power line on high towers south and down through the mountains and valleys of the North Country, and then continuing south roughly parallel to Interstate 93 and the Pemigewasset River corridor, thence further south ultimately to Deerfield, New Hampshire will cause the following calamitous (word used advisedly) effects to occur:

1.               All licensed real estate brokers and real estate sales people will be required to disclose to any and all customers looking at real estate in New Hampshire that is exposed in any way to the proposed power lines that these power lines may in fact, at some point in the future be constructed.  Owners of impacted real estate will have to authorize the disclosure of the planned tower locations in all listing agreements.

2.                For as long as this threat exists, prospective buyers will have to be told where these power lines are proposed to be built and all real estate brokers and sales people will have to make their customers aware of the ramifications of being near a power line or being able to see a power line of the scope proposed by Northern Pass.

3.                The required revelation of the Northern Pass plans will bring the potential sale of any of these types of properties impacted by the possible construction of new power lines to a stand still.  Thousands of properties will be affected by this reality.  Obviously the properties immediately adjacent to these power lines will see their property values destroyed by the presence of these lines. Properties near the power lines, especially if the power lines can be seen, will also see property values plummet to a next to nothing level.  Properties that can view the power lines, even at a significant distance away from the power lines will see their property values dramatically reduced, especially in the North Country where one of the critical factors in establishing value are views.  

4.                The impacts on existing residential properties will also impact raw land.  So, over time, the construction industry will be impacted as well as the real estate industry. Hundreds of construction related jobs will begin to fade and at some point, will be totally annihilated in areas where vistas/views are critical elements in establishing a demand for real estate.
 5.        The impact on the tax bases of the towns where these power lines end up being located will be catastrophic. Just in Campton and Thornton alone where most of my business is done, these towers will have the impact of destroying upwards of 50% of the present valuation of each of these two towns.  Other towns up and down the entire length of the proposed power lines will be similarly impacted.   

6.               Other insidious impacts will creep into the picture over time.  Think of the hundreds of thousands of people who drive up Interstate 93 from out of state and reach the Plymouth area, generally perceived as the gateway to the White Mountains, only to see the views that traditionally stir their hearts and make their pulses quicken destroyed by the placement of these towers in line with those views.  Over time, they will seek other routes for coming up into the North Country, probably choosing to go to other states so they don’t have to be confronted by this atrocious intrusion on their senses. Over time these power lines, placed where they are currently proposed, will result in the elimination of hundreds of regional jobs and the attendant loss of significant revenues to the State of New Hampshire in the form of Rooms and Meals Taxes, Gasoline Taxes, income from the sale of alcoholic beverages and receipts from the toll booths along Interstate 93.  The impact on the State's collection of Transfer Tax Stamps will be immediate and dramatic.

7.         Banks that have provided mortgages on properties affected negatively by the proposed power lines at 70% to 80% of the pre-power line valuations will find that the principal balances on those mortgages are well in excess of the new market values of same.  Consider homes with mortgages in excess of $500,000 becoming deminimis in value forcing banks to write down those loans on their books.  Such cases will not be unusual.  Additionally, banks will be reluctant, if not unwilling, to lend any new mortgage money against properties near or within view of the proposed new power lines.

8.               There will need to be a very carefully researched economic analysis prepared in order to document the impact of all of the consequences of the proposed power lines.  But, this will take time – too much time, so we need to start talking about these impacts now and getting the message through to Governor Lynch that his early support of the Northern Pass was ill founded, politically incorrect and potentially economically catastrophic for the State that he is sworn to protect.     Efforts are now underway to engage the services of a well known economist from UNH to undertake the aforementioned economic analysis, but this will take many months and perhaps up to a year.  In the meantime, our already distressed northern New Hampshire economy will worsen and irreparable damage may be done to a large portion of New Hampshire's critically important vacation and second home industry and to the primary home marketplace up and down the length of these new power lines.  Governor Lynch was recently seen touting New Hampshire's economy as being the fastest growing economy in New England.  That will become an empty boast if the Northern Pass project moves forward.

It seems to me that there are a number of fundamental inequities in a law that permits a public utility like PSNH, using the eminent domain mechanism, to quite literally terrorize thousands of property owners with the threat of taking their land for a project that is not remotely close to being permitted; that may, in fact, never be approved; and for which there has been no present or immediate future need shown.  New Hampshire does not currently need the Hydro Quebec power and if natural gas remains plentiful and cheap and if other sources of power continue to be developed, New Hampshire may never need to tolerate the encroachment on its natural beauty that the Northern Pass represents.  The mere possibility of the H Q power being available in New England creates disincentives for other truly renewable, green and sustainable power sources to be developed.

For the last couple of decades, the public has been warned about being and becoming even more dependent upon foreign sources of power like imported oil.  Hydro Quebec is a foreign source of power no different in character than Saudi Arabia and Venezuela -- friends today -- perhaps not so friendly tomorrow.  Our government has been preaching that we have to reduce our reliance upon foreign sources of power and here we are looking at powering up New England (not including New Hampshire) at New Hampshire's expense with what appears today to be cheap hydro power.  This past spring and summer, there was a drought in Quebec that forced HQ to cutback on its deliveries of power to some of its customers.  Had the Northern Pass been in existence this past spring/summer, there's a pretty good chance that power to New England would have been cut off or drastically reduced.  Relying on foreign power from Quebec puts New England pretty low on the totem pole of megawatt flow if shortages occur in the future.  

Northern Pass and PSNH should be enjoined from continuing to threaten the peace and tranquility of New Hampshire while it attempts to demonstrate that the power it will bring into New Hampshire will stay in New Hampshire and benefit New Hampshire's citizens and not Northeast Utility's out of state interests and stock holders.  The mere fact that PSNH has the ability to utilize the eminent domain mechanism places an awesome responsibility on its shoulders to only utilize that mechanism when all other remedies and alternatives have been exhausted, including burial of the line at the expense of Northern Pass.  Surely a firm that bills its customers at a rate of $10 Million US Dollars per minute around the clock can afford to do the right thing for New Hampshire and dig deep both literally and figuratively.  

A lethal bomb now hangs over the heads of every affected New Hampshire property owner, real estate broker, mortgage lender, business and town and it will remain there, possibly for a half dozen or more years, while the permitting and legal procedures drag on.  New Hampshire's popular motto, Live Free Or Die may end up having to be changed to Live Free Or Die A Thousand Deaths since it may well be a thousand or more days before the outcome of the Northern Pass attack on New Hampshire's freedoms, environment, economy and sensitivities is resolved.  This is NOT the New Hampshire way!!!

If I have the opportunity of personally addressing Governor Lynch, I will ask him to please take a pass on this Northern Pass deal!  It's not good for New Hampshire and it's not good for New Hampshire's people.  Since he is now serving an historic fourth term, I will suggest that he has a chance to leave an indelible mark on our state having been a linchpin (another word used advisedly) in the process of creating prosperity for the entire state.  I will beg him to please not allow his legacy to become a massive scar down the spine of New Hampshire bringing unnecessary power to the rest of New England at New Hampshire's expense.

Respectfully submitted this 10th day of January, 2011,

Thomas N.T. Mullen, Master Developer
Owl's Nest Resort & Golf Club
Campton, New Hampshire
603-759-2510 Cell
603-726-3076 X 219

Bury the Northern Pass, a group of concerned citizens in Grafton County, belongs to the No Northern Pass Coalition. To join the email list, write to burynorthernpass@gmail.com.