Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest Post: "Listen my people"

Paul Revere's Ride

Passed in 2006 by an 85% majority of the voters, NH Constitution Article 12-A (property rights) undergoes its first big challenge this week as Northern Pass tries to defeat HB 648, which will buttress 12-A. New Hampshire citizens are right to raise the alarm.

It is the appropriate time to publish this guest blog by Linda R. Samson, who tips her hat to the original author, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for her inspiration.


Listen my people and you shall heed
Of the scary sweep of corporate greed.
On one October day in two thousand ten,
No one suspected then
What a foreign power said we would need.

We said to our neighbors, “If they come
Through land or sea to bring power here,
Hang high the orange in every town
To show them our stand is clear,--
Either by land or possibly by sea;
There’s no question what our thought is to be,
Ready to go and spread the alarm
Through every New Hampshire village and farm,
For all our people to be up and to arm.”

Then we said “Beware”, with careful glance
Of Public Service and Northeast’s stance.
Just as the paper came out today,
With all the “facts” supposing to say
That Hydro Quebec, Canada’s huge power;
A dark company, making billions every hour
Across the world, everywhere far,
As a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By all its holdings on every tide.

Meanwhile, our friends, through alley and street
Wander and watch, with eager ears,
‘Till in the silence around them we hear
The whisper of evil and greed at our door,
The sound of corruption and the stamp of deceit,
And their measured march everyone fears,
Coming to our state through our border north.

Then we climbed the cliff where The Old Man did rest,
By the stone path, with careful stride,
To his lofty perch in the sky,
And startled the eagle from her nest.

Here we could see the land untouched
By massive towers and wires as such,--
Who knows what would follow as well,
More towers, turbines, lines on the swell.

Here we paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the towns
And the clean air and sun flowing over all.
Beneath in the valley lay the land,
Where our forefathers came to be free,
Surrounded by its beauty, its majesty
That we treasure, we want to keep at hand.

We need to be watchful, when we know
That, creeping in from Canada, ever so slow,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only some feel the spell
Of their words, the hour, then the secret dread
Of what is really at stake ahead.

For suddenly, all our thoughts turn to
The reality of the statements they make,
What we’ll lose forever, no gain for our sake,--
A cloud of black is over our land
Creeping, seizing, lying, making its stand.

Meanwhile they’re impatient to push through,
Their points, their issues, their agenda to you.
They are opposite from us in all means
Of caring about our lives and land.

As we gaze around us it seems
That to them the mighty dollar dictates
Their actions without concern for other states,
But mostly we watch and wait to see
What their next devious move will be,
Pictures out of context-that’s been done,
Words out of place-more than one,
And lo, as we look, thinking we’ve won
A small battle, maybe to see the sun,
But then again, from some dark hole,
With a battle new, they come,----
How does this happen—it must be the mole.

A hurry of footsteps on a busy street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
A person, a power, a wolf, a shark,
Someone with intel going to meet?

That was it! And yet through the gloom
Of the sinister doings in a faraway room
The people will prevail against the doom.

And the spark ignited by the first of us
Who love our land and country,
Who leave our jobs and homes daily
To fight this intruder on our peace of mind,
They care not for our welfare,
They would strip our forests bare,
They are not of our kind.

It was twelve by the village clock
When they crossed the border down;
They came here to deceive and mock,
Our values, heritage, our very mind.
Don’t let them, they’re not our kind.
We must take a stand, our land to own.

It was eight bells and is all well??—
As we go about our daily work.
We see our children, what do we tell
Them about what we’re going to do.

Some laws were passed long ago,
It seems, to pave the way for now;
Maybe it’s too late to fix them;
Those who govern must not shirk.
It was high noon by the village clock
When we came to the House in Concord Town.

We heard many of our people talk,
Then the twitter of politicians shifting
Back and forth seemingly lifting
Us up as sacrifices to the Crown.

And are we safe as we sleep so still?
Who in the land will be first to sell,
Who in the land will fall to their will,
Coaxed by the almighty dollar bill.

Do you want history later to read
How Hydro Quebec came and took all the trees,
How landowners gave up with no fight,
Hiding, surrendering, turning tail, taking flight;
No, that’s not how history will go,
We’ll take a stand, make them know,
Standing together, united in purpose,
Always to win, never to lose.

So through the months the Orange Tide rolls,
And through the days the people press on
To every New Hampshire village and person;
A cry of defiance from righteous souls,
All voices together against the greed.

It’s for Canada’s profit, not New Hampshire’s need!
For borne on the night wind of the past
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The voice of reason and right, not greed.
And the message of honest people is clear;--
It’s our true voice, without any fear.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Northern Pass: An Elective Upgrade by the Developer

ISO-New England, the regional grid planner, classifies various energy projects, including upgrades, as either "reliability"  (necessary) or "elective" (not necessary) projects. The nomenclature is straightforward.

In ISO-NE's April 2011 report, Northern Pass (#226) is classified as "elective":

ISO-NE considers Northern Pass to be a "part 4b" project: "these projects may be promoted by any entity electing to support the cost of the transmission changes. The entity sponsoring the changes will have their own justification for their actions." Because they front the cost themselves, Part 4 and 5 projects are not subject to the scrutiny, planning, and management that traditional reliability projects needed to keep the lights on are. The new merchant and participant-funded projects can end-run the lengthy regional planning process by fronting the initial funding themselves, although of course they intend to recover it handsomely later on. Northeast Utilities has said that the motive for Northern Pass is not to keep the lights on, but to respond to "social policy goals" and to make money.

The concept of "reliability" need be no more complicated than ISO-NE's clear determinations and Northeast Utilities's own definition--"keeping the lights on."  

Developers of unrequested, unneeded, and unwanted elective projects like Northern Pass should not be allowed to use the police power of the state to condemn and seize private land for the sole motive of making money. It's really quite simple. They should have to negotiate their optional utility project with willing buyers like any other corporation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More Extension Cords Across New Hampshire?

Northeast Utilities (NU) admits that Northern Pass is not meant to keep the lights on. What does NU say Northern Pass is meant to do?

On March 15, 2011, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held a one-day technical conference on merchant and participant-funded transmission. After the conference, various utilities filed written policy comments. On May 5, 2011, NU/NSTAR filed a comment requesting more flexible regulatory treatment by FERC; the full comment is here. In the two sections examined in this post, NU first explains that Northern Pass, a participant funded transmission project, is not needed for reliability: it's not intended to keep the lights on, but to respond to social policy goals and to make money. Second, NU dreams about building more big transmission lines from rural to urban areas.

Not Keeping the Lights on, Just Making Money

NU reveals what participant-funded transmission projects like Northern Pass are all about:  “Participant funded transmission projects are fundamentally different than regionally planned transmission projects intended to keep the lights on.  Unlike regionally planned projects that are designed to address NERC and ISO operational criteria, participant funded projects typically intend to respond to either social policy goals, such as state-mandated renewable portfolio standards and reduced carbon emissions, or underlying economic conditions beneficial to the participants, or both.  As such, participant funded projects may not impact a region’s transmission grid, reliability requirements or rates and therefore should be eligible for more flexible regulatory treatment because they meet different goals than regionally planned transmission projects”  (emphasis added).  In other words, these optional transmission projects, not intended to keep the lights on, basically try to meet “social policy goals” or just try to make money for the participants.  Thank you, NU, for making such a clear distinction between projects needed for reliability and optional projects like Northern Pass.

More Northern Pass’s on the Horizon?

NU further explains that, besides Northern Pass, it is exploring “other participant funded transmission projects” that will be “a collector system” for wind, biomass or other renewables.  The supplying or generating facilities will be far away from areas with energy demand, and thus there is a need for “significant transmission infrastructure” to deliver the electricity to urban areas.  In other words, NU is looking at a network of connector lines to hook up new renewables facilities to the grid, and the renewables facilities will be in rural areas. 

Any Questions?

Are there any questions about what Northern Pass is meant to do?

Are there any questions about NU's desire to drape more extension cords across NH?

Are there any question about why NH needs to pass HB 648?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking the Measure of Northern Pass's New Visual Simulations

Northern Pass has added some new "visual simulations" of towers to the "News & Info" page of its website. Let's take a look.

Here is the "visual simulation" of existing poles (left) and the proposed new transmission towers (right) at Forest Lake Road, Whitefield. (There's another pole to the right the same height as the ones on the left). Those towers sure are ugly, aren't they? But let's stick to the numbers for now. Those towers are about to get bigger (and uglier).

The existing front pole on the left measures 2-1/8" high in this browser; the simulated front tower on the right measures 3" high. Let's round it off to a 2:3 ratio. Do the math. Let's assume that the front pole is 56'; the front tower must then be 84'. That seems about right.

But, the legend tells us that the visible poles in the picture are 43'-56.5'. That must mean that the one in front is 56.5", the one in back 43'. Right? Hard to know. The visible towers are 80'-100'. That must mean that the one in front is 100', the one in back 80'. Right? Hard to know. But let's go with it.

The legend tells us the front pole is 56.5' and the front tower is 100' (approximately 1:2 ratio). But when we measured them by ruler earlier in the simulation, if the front pole was 56', the front tower was 84' (a 2:3 ratio). In the simulation, the tower only looked 33% higher than the pole, not almost 50% higher.

So what's wrong here? This must be it: objects may be larger or smaller than they appear in the simulations!

But which "objects" are smaller and which larger? Never mind. It's all still "preliminary":

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hotel New Hampshire: No Vacancy

This guest post contains an editorial cartoon by another creative opposition member who has graciously shared her work. We look forward to seeing more.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Daddy, What Was New Hampshire Like?

Jamie Cunningham, a Franconia photographer, toured Northern Pass protest signs and made this poster montage of some of his favorites, including "Daddy, What Was New Hampshire Like?" Jamie has generously shared the poster with us, and he will put it on his own website. You can see the image below in larger format here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Never, Never, Never Use the "T" Word

A look at the International Right of Way Association (IRWA)

From time to time, Bury Northern Pass browses our opponents’ websites to get a sense of what they read and write. This post takes a look at an online journal called Right of Way, the official voice of the IRWA, the International Right of Way Association, which has been around since 1934 and claims 10,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. There is indeed a whole profession devoted to acquiring right of ways. Members take training courses, get credentials, attend conferences. “WAs,” right of way agents, study negotiation and acquisition, management, appraisal, relocation assistance, environmental issues, asset/property management, real estate law, engineering and surveying. It’s a multi-billion dollar business, the IRWA says. Much of the training emphasizes negotiation and acquisition—getting the land the employer's project needs, usually from unwilling, even hostile, landowners.
A PSNH contractor, Coler & Colantonio, maintains membership in the IRWA. Let’s see what a right of way agent might read in the association’s journal of record.
Carol L. Brooks, who is a SR/WA (Senior Right of Way Agent), has written a series of articles on negotiating with landowners for Right of Way. Illuminating stuff. In one set of articles, Brooks creates two pairs of fictional characters. On one side are the landowners, Mr. and Mrs. Stiller (Augie and Iris), who are rancher-farmers of some type (there’s a cornfield in one illustration, and in another, they live in a log house). On the other side are the WAs for Mountain Range telecom, Meg and Joe. Meg’s and  Joe’s job is to get the Stillers to agree to Mountain Range's uncompensated taking of their land to place fiber optic cable across it. The Stillers are portrayed as rural hicks who speak in an ersatz hillbilly dialect (“aint,” “dagdum,” etc). Iris is ignorant enough to wonder what dietary fiber has to do with telephone cable. But she’s not dumb enough to agree to the taking of their land for no compensation, and she wants to know why Mountain Range can’t put their cable somewhere else. The negotiation stalls out quickly; Iris tells Augie to escort Meg and Joe to the door. Augie tells the two WAs not to bother to return. “You got my Missus all fired up,” Augie explains. Henpecked Augie’s wife-weary attitude invites readers to see Iris as unreasonable and domineering. He’s weak; she wears the pants.
But that’s only subliminally the problem. In the next article, Meg and Joe conduct a post-mortem on their failure to get the Stillers’ voluntary agreement to the taking, which, of course, is going to cost the company legal fees for the eminent domain action to get the land. First and foremost, they decide, “never, never, never use the word ‘take’ to negotiate.” Use words like “acquire.” Avoid technical terms (e.g., fiber optic) and legalese; speak in “plain ol’ English.” They also realize that they were grossly overdressed. Joe’s suit and tie and Meg’s high heels did not allow the Stillers to identify with them. (They both wear flannel shirts.) Meg and Joe hadn’t done their homework either; they didn’t know why the cable had to be placed on the Stiller land and could not answer Iris’s question. They also failed to read correctly the Stillers’ body language (despite the fact that the illustration unambiguously shows Augie holding a rifle, Iris a stick as they glare at the two agents). And so forth. Meg and Joe decide to attend an IRWA course titled, “Skills and Attitudes for Successful Negotiations -Part I,” which is covered in the third article in Brooks’s series, and readers are invited to listen in on the course with Meg and Joe as they learn the fine art of negotiating with recalcitrant rural landowners.
I didn’t go with Meg and Joe. Somehow, I just don’t think Iris or anyone else is going to give up land voluntarily even if they pass the course with flying colors. And Iris certainly won't let Augie give away the ranch-farm either.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hands Across the Border: Solidarity and Support in Opposition to Northern Pass and Hydro-Quebec (May 7, 2011)

In a remarkable day of international solidarity and protest, New Hampshire residents reach across the border to join hands with Quebec neighbors in opposition to Northern Pass and Hydro-Quebec, followed by an afternoon information meeting in Pittsburg NH. French language media estimated the crowd at 200. The Colebrook Chronicle provides "breaking news" video and print coverage of the Canadian-American event, and more photos are here.

Assembled on the American side (Beecher Falls) for march to the border

Hands across the border

Afternoon presentation of banner to Quebec Opposition neighbors in Pittsburg NH

Friday, May 6, 2011

Guest Column: Remarks by Will Abbott, SPNHF (May 5, 2011)

Remarks by Will Abbott
VP for Policy & Land Management
Society for the Protection of NH Forests

At the Concord Chamber of Commerce
May 5, 2011

Thank you to the Concord Chamber for hosting Gary Long and me today to talk about Northern Pass.  This is an important debate for NH, because Northern Pass is the largest energy project in our state since Seabrook Station.

I’d like to start by acknowledging two facts of life about electricity.  First, delivering the right amount of electrons to the right destination at the time they are needed is a very complicated enterprise.    
Second, there are no easy choices in generating and delivering electricity.  Each choice comes with financial, environmental and social costs and benefits.   It is how we evaluate the costs and benefits of these choices that is most critical to a successful energy future.    

Northern Pass is a project that proposes to bring 1200 MW of electricity to southern New England from Quebec.  New Hampshire is being asked to host a 180 mile extension cord strung over 1100 new towers, each 90 to 135 feet high, through 31 communities in 5 of our 10 counties from Pittsburg to Deerfield.  In exchange for this power coming south, New England will send north over $1 billion a year for 40 years to Hydro-Quebec, the generator of the electricity. 

Why would an organization that has spent the last 110 years conserving New Hampshire’s scenic landscapes and the last 30 years practicing and teaching about the benefits of alternative energy --- including wood for energy --- oppose a project like Northern Pass? 

We believe it’s bad for New Hampshire for at least four reasons.  First, it will create a permanent and highly visible scar on the very landscapes that make New Hampshire New Hampshire.  Second, there is no discernable long term benefit for New Hampshire in the project as proposed.  Third, Northern Pass will be a net detriment to the health of New Hampshire forests and the forest products industry these healthy forests support.  Fourth, as the state’s oldest and largest land trust, the Forest Society has a legal and ethical obligation to defend existing conservation lands from commercial development like Northern Pass.

Our business at the Forest Society is conserving New Hampshire’s forested landscapes.  These landscapes provide New Hampshire with exceptional scenic beauty, sustainable economic opportunities and markets and a very strong sense of place to those who choose to live and work in the communities they shelter.  The Forest Society’s mission from our beginning has been “to perpetuate the forests of New Hampshire through their wise use and their complete reservation in places of special scenic beauty.”   Erecting 180 miles of towers higher than most mature tree species in New Hampshire is not our idea of wise use.  If built, these towers will forever desecrate scenic views along the entire Pittsburg to Deerfield route.

On projects of this scale the ultimate balance sheet should include a full assessment of all the plusses and all the minuses.  A decision to move forward should be well informed, and should reflect a determination that the public interest is being well served.  The good news is that Northern Pass will be the subject of federal and a state regulatory review processes.  We believe these processes are established to act in the public interest.   These reviews will likely take two or more years, and will hopefully answer many of the unanswered questions that exist about Northern Pass today.  If, at the end of this analysis, the primary economic benefits for New Hampshire are three years of short term jobs and $25 million in annual property tax payments, we say NO DEAL. 

The impact of Northern Pass on forests and forest ecology needs further study, but we believe these impacts are likely to all be negative.  The impacts on forest products economies will also be adverse.  The reality is that Northern Pass may slam the door on the development of domestic renewable energy within New Hampshire in the name of “competitively priced power.” 

The impact of Northern Pass on landowners is already being felt today.  Real estate sales are not happening because of the uncertainty over whether and where this power line may actually be sited.  Landowners whose primary asset is the home they own are now suffering a double whammy --- the economic decline we’ve all been living through for the past 2.5 years is now coupled with a threatened decline in value of their real estate due to the Northern Pass preferred corridor.  To add insult to injury, the threat of eminent domain is hanging over the heads of landowners in the corridor where an entirely new right of way will be required.

There has been a very visceral, very negative public reaction to Northern Pass in the 31 communities affected.   If, as Governor Lynch suggests, the project should not move forward if the affected communities don‘t want it, the smart thing for the advocates of Northern Pass to do would be to withdraw the project as proposed from further consideration.   At some point, the public interest should be what the public says it is.  This is why the Society’s President/Forester Jane Difley corresponded more than a month ago with the CEOs of Northeast Utilities, NSTAR, Hydro Quebec and PSNH to suggest they withdraw the project as proposed, go back to the drawing board and come back with a Plan B.  There may be a way of successfully bringing HQ power to southern New England, but Plan A is not it.  Jane has yet to receive a reply.

If Northern Pass persists with Plan A, we believe there are a host of questions in need of answers before anyone --- particularly the regulatory review agencies of government
--- can fully and independently establish whether this project in any form is actually in the public interest.  To pass the public interest smell test, there should be clear evidence that public benefits exceed costs.

What are some of the compelling public benefits that should drive these decisions?

One compelling public benefit would be meeting a need for electricity.  The Granite State is a net exporter of electricity.  New Hampshire does not need the new electricity Northern Pass offers, and in fact it is not proposed to receive any of the new power directly.  If every generating station located in NH were at full power we’d be generating over 4000 MW.  On an average day we consume 1200 MW.
New England does not need the electrons.  The peak demand recorded by ISO NE over the past five years was 28,000 MW.  The installed capacity of New England generating stations is 33,000 MW.  In fact, ISO NE’s own records indicate that they’ve been selling up to 5% of their total New England generation to New York over the past 4 years.

A second compelling public benefit would be to reduce New Hampshire’s gross carbon emissions.  The most immediate way to reduce New Hampshire’s carbon emissions would be to schedule the retirement of the three coal plants that PSNH operates in Bow and Portsmouth and replace that power with another low carbon source of electricity.  This is not even on the table for discussion with Northern Pass.

Gary and I served together with 25 other New Hampshire citizens on Governor Lynch’s Climate Change Task Force three years ago.  At that time he offered this concept of low carbon Canadian hydro as a way to offset 6 million metric tons of New England’s carbon emissions, one of 67 recommendations I supported.  But last fall when the Northern Pass was publicly introduced, 6 million became 5 million.  Last November when Jane Difley and I met with the Northern Pass’ project manager, we pressed her for some analysis that explained this projected reduction.  We were told that they were doing a study and that we’d see the results of this study when it was completed.   Six days later at a BIA energy conference here in Concord she used the figure of 2.5 million tons in carbon reductions for Northern Pass.  We’ve still seen no comprehensive analysis, so you can imagine why we are a bit confused over what the exact savings really might be. 

A third compelling public benefit would be a defensible reduction in retail prices paid for electricity by New Hampshire consumers.   By Northern Pass’ own projections, New Hampshire ratepayers will see a $35 million a year reduction in the price of power they consume from the New England wholesale market if Northern Pass power is sold to New England.  What will Northern Pass see from Hydro Quebec?  At the end of year one of operation, NP will receive by its own estimate a patyment from HQ of $219 million, of which $68.5 million is return on equity to NP approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.   

Of that $68.5 million NP receives as its return on equity, it expects to pay $38 million in federal income taxes.  So HQ scores first on the list of beneficiaries.  Northern Pass scores second.  The IRS scores third.  And the New Hampshire consumer is at the bottom of the benefit list.  As a federal taxpayer I may find some silver lining in this, but as a New Hampshire resident and consumer I start to seriously question just whose interest is being best served by this deal.

There is another concern we have about the Northern Pass project, and this relates to the federal and state decision-making processes that the project must clear before it can be built.   At the federal level, the Department of Energy must issue a Presidential Permit for this powerline to cross the international border.  In the 60 years the federal government has been issuing Presidential Permits they’ve never rejected an application.   While this raises a yellow caution flag with us, we are encouraged that the entire New Hampshire congressional delegation is focused on assuring that the Environmental Impact Statement that DOE will prepare for the project will be thorough, transparent and robust in its analysis of a broad range of credible alternatives --- including the no build option.

The ultimate decision to site this power line in New Hampshire is a state decision.  Under state law the decision rests with the NH Site Evaluation Committee  The SEC includes 15 state commissioners and department directors, each of whom are honorable people who work hard at their day jobs.  But in the 32 years I’ve lived in New Hampshire I am not aware that the SEC has ever denied an application for the siting of an energy facility.  Again, this gives us considerable pause.  If we expect the SEC to make a balanced, well informed decision we must insist that they gather the necessary information to make such a decision.   

This is one reason why the Forest Society joined with the Conservation Law Foundation and several other conservation organizations last week in filing a petition with the DOE to set the Northern Pass Presidential Permit application aside temporarily while it conducts a comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of importing Canadian hydro power to meet the combined short and long term electricity needs of New England and New York.  There is no downside to such an analysis, as it serves to better inform governmental agencies that must make key decisions for the project to advance.     

The Northern Pass raises a host of other issues that time does not allow us to explore today, but that hopefully the regulatory review process will not only thoroughly study but fully vet.  We need to recognize that there are some questions neither the DOE nor the SEC will ever address.   For example, since New England energy consumers will ultimately pay for the cost of bringing this power to market through the price they pay for the electricity, we think it is a fair question whether the $1.1 billion cost of this project --- or the total cost of any alternative --- is the best way for society to spend this kind of money for the benefit of the power.  What if society could invest $1.1 billion in energy conservation and save more than the amount of electricity this project proposes to bring to market?  Sadly, this question does not get asked or answered by the Department of Energy or by the Site Evaluation Committee. 

Finally, we believe that the power of eminent domain should be off the table for the purposes of this project.  In 2006 New Hampshire voters adopted an amendment to the New Hampshire constitution by a margin of 85% to 15% which simply states:

No part of a person’s property shall be taken by eminent domain and transferred directly or indirectly to another person if the purpose of the taking is for the purpose of private development or other private use of the property.

Northern Pass LLC is a private New Hampshire corporation.  Its proposed asset is a privately owned transmission line being built entirely with HQ money for the exclusive use and benefit of HQ.  We see no reason why any New Hampshire landowner should be subject to the threat of eminent domain for such a project.  HB 648, which passed the House last month on a 317 to 51 vote, is now before the State Senate.  This legislation brings the existing statute governing utility access to eminent domain --- originally adopted in 1911 --- into sync with article 12-A to the Constitution adopted in 2006.  We strongly encourage each State Senator to stand up for landowner rights and support HB 648 and we encourage Governor Lynch to sign it into law should it come to his desk.   

As I hope I have made clear, the Forest Society believes the Northern Pass project as proposed is bad for New Hampshire.  If Northern Pass advocates are truly listening to what the large majority of people in the affected communities are actually saying, common sense would argue that the wise course of action would be to withdraw the initial proposal, go back the drawing board, and come up with a Plan B.   The public could not speak any more clearly or plainly than it already has on Plan A. 

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.   

Monday, May 2, 2011

Guest Blog: Reel Brook Trail Field Report (April 30, 2011)

A guest blog by Kris Pastoriza, Easton, who hiked up along the PSNH power line and Reel Brook Trail to the Kinsman Ridge on Saturday, April 30. The power line crosses a smaller bog on the west side of the ridge and then an extensive bog on the east side. Kris and her companion hikers will return at a dryer time to year to enter the latter, extensive high elevation wetlands known as Bog Pond. Kris's trip photos are here.

     In the scoping comment for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Environmental Review Coordinator Carol B. Henderson writes that “physical examination of the areas proposed to be newly constructed and impacts to the existing transmission corridors should be included, in order to determine minimization of impacts proposed by this project for all NEPA requirements.” Accordingly, our party of three hiked up the Reel Brook Trail, in Easton, on April 30th, to examine the existing PSNH transmission corridor, and document the extensive Bog Pond wetland area through which the corridor passes.
     We followed the Reel Brook Trail for approximately one mile. This section of the trail was not exceedingly wet, and the stream crossings posed no real difficulties.  We passed under the powerlines and shortly after crossed a stream.  We then followed a short access road north up to the powerlines, at about 2,000' altitude, and hiked beneath them. Up to this point it appeared that the club mowers were able to access the corridor, but where we crossed to the corridor it became quite steep. At the top of this slope was a steep, deep slope down to a river crossing. The clearing here had been done with chain-saws, and the trees left where they fell. There was a small stream at the bottom, and another steep slope up, on which lay two power-line poles, which had apparently fallen and been replaced, as their “stumps” were at the top of the ravine.
     We continued up on less steep terrain, past a beautiful rock face and waterfall on the left, with cliffs visible high on the side of South Kinsman. Looking west the Cooley-Cole ridge was clearly visible, with the mountains of Vermont beyond. The terrain became increasingly wet and boggy, and as we scrambled up another short, steep rocky section, we came upon an intact set of insulators, and farther on were cross-pieces from fallen poles. There were roughly seven pole stumps on this upper section of the lines, possibly due to high winds funneling through the notch.
     At the top of this steep pitch was a large pile of sand, apparently imported, since the soil was peaty.  Beyond was a bog with spaghnum moss and labrador tea. It had several deep, narrow streams flowing through. Steep hills were on either side, and we were forced to work across the bog and onto higher, snow covered ground to get around it. At this section the lines angled from southeast to almost directly east, as they passed over the bog. Several of the poles were in standing water.
    At the far side of this bog, the corridor became a small stream bed. The slopes leading down to the stream were covered with small softwoods which had been trimmed at about 2' with chain-saws or weed-wackers. We worked our way down through the fallen slash to the stream and followed it up to rockier ground where we came upon the Appalachian Trail entering on the right. Shortly after, the trail opened up to a stunning vista of the Bog Pond area, with Loon and other summits in the Pemi range beyond. The PSNH poles led straight down and across the bog, through standing water, with the largest pond south of them. Snowmobile tracks were visible beneath the lines.
     We headed down the AT, putting on snowshoes about five minutes into the woods. The AT was poorly blazed, (thanks to Sherpa for route-finding) but from the junction the Reel Brook Trail was clear and well blazed in blue. We wore snowshoes until we were about ten minutes above the stream crossing where we had left the trail on the way up. The snow was 2'-3' deep on the upper sections of the trail, and a moose or two had recently traveled the Reel Brook Trail.
     This was so clearly an area where the lines should never have been allowed to go. There must have been extensive damage and erosion during the construction, though, sixty years later, that is covered. There is no way to put new towers, concrete, access roads, and lines up there without unthinkable amounts of destruction. The “project” route must have been thought up by a bunch of people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about the terrain that is there.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The White Mountain National Forest “Roadless Rule” and Northern Pass

In 2005, the WMNF raised the idea of removing the current PSNH power line in Easton, Lincoln, and North Woodstock. It's time to revisit the idea.

Issued in 2001, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule is a guideline that prohibits a wide range of activities, most notably road building, in America’s wildest remaining national forests. The Roadless Rule is less stringent than the earlier Wilderness Act. For instance, the former allows limited timber harvesting, provided it does not require building new roads; the latter does not. It allows some off-road vehicle use (e.g., snowmobiles); the Wilderness Act does not. The Roadless Rule might be seen as a Wilderness Act “lite” or precursor: areas designated as roadless periodically come under scrutiny for reclassification into the stricter management regime of wilderness areas. Management of wilderness areas is more aggressive; non-conforming structures, for instance, are removed, trail maintenance is minimal, etc.  The Rule has undergone numerous challenges and modifications in ten years, including state control, and there appear to be constant efforts to reinterpret it, but it now protects some 60 million acres of national forest in 39 states from certain kinds of development that fragment habitation, open up corridors for invasive species, and lessen opportunities for experiencing solitude in nature.
Nearly half of the White Mountain National Forest’s 800,000 acres has been classified as Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA), while only 115,00 acres are managed as wilderness area. The WMNF lies within a five hour drive of twelve million people in the urban northeast, and there is relatively little national land managed as wilderness within their reach. Prior to 2005, the WMNF documented an increasing demand for wilderness experience by its visitors, and, accordingly, it considered reclassifying some IRAs to be managed as wilderness in the 2005 forest plan. Two of the IRAs that were considered for this “upgrading” share a common boundary: the current PSNH power line that runs through ten miles of the WMNF in Easton, Lincoln, and North Woodstock on a renewable special use permit. Built around 1950,  this line pre-dates current WMNF management techniques as well as NEPA.
Indeed, the PSNH power line determined the boundary of these two IRAs when they were designated within the last ten years. IRA #2272, Kinsman, is bounded on the east by state land adjacent to US Rt 3/93, on the west, by private land adjacent to Rt 116, and on the south by the PSNH high voltage line. IRA #2275, Mt. Wolf-Gordon Pond, has the same eastern and western boundaries, and its northern boundary is formed by the PSNH power line. An IRA would not ideally have even a pre-existing power line bisecting it, and the cart drove the horse, so to speak, in order to configure IRAs that were nominally unfragmented by such a corridor.
But even if the waters parted around it, the PSNH power line has not been a welcome feature of the WMNF. The 2005 forest plan targets it as one of the reasons neither IRA could currently qualify for wilderness management:
The Inventoried Roadless Area [2772] is of adequate size and general configuration
to be managed as Wilderness. The most significant influence on the
Inventoried Roadless Area is the adjacent powerline, which provides a
significant visual intrusion to the area. (C-115)

However, it’s important to note that PSNH does not hold a permanent deeded easement or right-of-way over the national forest. It is granted a special use permit that must be renewed periodically. This temporary arrangement acknowledges the fact that forest usage and management goals change over time, and this line has been there for over 60 years. The continuing existence of a visually intrusive power line is always subject to review. And the 2005 plan raises the idea several times that the removal of the power line would be a good thing given the changing use and perception of the forest but defers it as not feasible at the time, e.g.:
As stated above, the area’s southern boundary is delineated by the powerline.
Removal of the powerline between this Inventoried Roadless Area and the
Mt. Wolf-Gordon Pond Inventoried Roadless Area would facilitate
Wilderness management of a combined, significantly larger area. The
powerline’s removal, however, is considered prohibitively impractical at this time. (C-106)

Removal of the powerline and combination with the Kinsman Inventoried
Roadless Area would result in a larger, more easily managed unit, however
powerline removal is impractical at this time. (C-108)

From a management perspective, the WMNF thought it was a good idea in 2005 to remove the powerline, albeit impractical at the time. If it found the current 60’ wooden poles to be a significant visual intrusion, how will it find the towers “in excess of 130 feet” that Northern Pass is proposing for the WMNF (Martin Murray, Union Leader, March 27, 2011)? This will be a monstrous visual intrusion. It flies in the face of current WMNF efforts to manage the area as roadless and to provide more naturally appearing landscapes for increasingly urban-weary visitors and second-home neighbors. Not only should Northern Pass be denied a special use permit, the WMNF should begin taking steps now to remove the current PSNH power line when its special use permit expires. Almost everyone who hikes into this area wonders why it was ever allowed to go through back in 1950.

Next: as a guest blog, a field report with photos written by one of three hikers who visited the Mt. Wolf-Gordon Pond roadless area on Saturday, April 30.