Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The "Northern Pass Transmission, LLC Bulletin," Issue 1 (November 29, 2011)

In the spirit of "what's good for the goose is good for the gander," we are posting the first issue of the Northern Pass Transmission LLC Bulletin, a bi-monthly (or more) publication designed to keep you, Northern Pass, up to date on what your proposed project really means to us and to our communities. This inaugural issue of the bulletin will give you a clear sense of how your first newsletter is being received out here in the towns where you would like to construct your steel towers. Pardon the lack of a glossy color format and the postage to mail it. (The Province of Quebec is funding you, not us.) We make no apologies for eschewing euphemisms and other rhetorical figures of speech and grammatical devices that obscure or misstate the facts. Indeed, we'll be calling out some of yours since they are highly offensive to us. This blog will spotlight the top five offenders.

Quoted statements following may be seen here.

  • "Northern Pass Landowner newsletter"
           First and foremost, we are not "Northern Pass Landowners." The phrasing and capitalization of "landowner" arrogantly turns us into a formal proper noun, a class of people on whom Northern Pass has some claim. We do own land in NH; it has an easement deeded to PSNH on it or condemned and seized by eminent domain. We reject your implication that Northern Pass has any claim whatsoever on us or on our land or that we acquiesce to either. You are using a dishonest term that attempts to send a subliminal message that we and our land (easements) are the chattel of Northern Pass. We demand that you cease using the phrase immediately. Your publication is a newsletter to NH landowners with existing PSNH rights-of-way. That's all. We consider that it has the same relationship to us that unsolicited junk mail does.

  • "Your Landowner Outreach Specialist"
          Jen Berry, Tom True, and Jim Wagner may think of us as "theirs," but we assure that we do not think of them as "ours." Far from it. Again, we reject your arrogant implication that Northern Pass has some claim on us or some personal relationship to us. We demand that you cease using all personal pronouns that imply possession or association. Northern Pass has no right to presume any connection to us. Call them "landowner outreach specialists" if you wish and risk the well-known parody ("landgrabber specialists"), but we are not "theirs" and they are not "ours." We know that you put them out front to draw off our ire and protect the corporate higher ups from the inconvenience of having to deal with the opposition. Some of us feel sorry that people have to take jobs like this, while others would flip burgers before they would do this kind of work, but do not presume that your "specialists" will make us friendly to your project. (What, by the way, makes them "specialists"? What qualifications do they have for trying to talk us into giving you more land?)

  • "What are people in your communities saying? Visit Mynewhampshire.com to find out." 
          No one from my community agreed to promote Northern Pass on your ersatz grassroots website. People in my community voted unanimously last March to oppose Northern Pass as a disaster for our town. "People in your communities" dishonestly implies widespread acceptance throughout NH. Is anyone on your site from north of Franklin? Either provide the evidence or state the facts: "What are twelve people, at least one of whom works as a subcontractor for PSNH, in a few New Hampshire communities saying?" No one in your newsletter audience would fall for this site anyway. It has earned the name "mynorthernpass.com."

  • "An easement is a permanent property right that you, or a previous owner of your property, granted to a utility company."
          No, more misspeak. An easement is a property right that a utility company acquired either by the landowner's voluntary grant or by the utility company's petition, in NH, to the Public Utilities Commission to condemn and take the land. We demand an accurate definition of easement. Words really matter here.

  • "Typically, an easement deed grants PSNH the right to construct, operate, and maintain lines for the transmission of electric power, and as the owner of those rights, PSNH may transfer or allow the exercise of those rights by others for the same use or purpose."
         This is so vaguely worded and badly written as to be nonsense at best, deliberate duplicity at worst. PSNH easements were granted or taken for projects deemed essential to keep the lights on and for the public benefit. Are you implying that Northern Pass is one of those "others" to whom PSNH may transfer or allow rights? In other words, it too is a reliability rather than optional, elective project? It too has been judged to be to the "public benefit"? If so, the PUC, Consumer Advocate, and Attorney General would want to know. If not, acknowledge honestly that Northern Pass has neither a current nor automatic right to use PSNH easements.  Words really do matter.

We hope this helps you, Northern Pass, get an initial sense of the response to your newsletter to land owners with existing PSNH easements.

One final matter: please provide instructions for landowners with existing PSNH easements and others to "unsubscribe" from your newsletter. It's a waste of paper and a most unwelcome intrusion, not to mention that you mailed it to some on the day before Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Expanding your easement . . . think it through

 As early as November 18, 2011, Northern Pass (NP) started mailing glossy color hard copies of its new bi-monthly "landowner newsletter" to property owners "along the project's proposed route." On November 22, Northern Pass uploaded it to the "back pages" of its website.

Bury the Northern Pass blogged on NP's latest "landowner outreach" campaign on November 22 under the title of  "Northern Pass and Morton's Fork". Today, NP moved the landowner "newsletter" up front and center on its "project journal." Accordingly, BNP revisits the newsletter's proposition that NP wants to work with landowners and help them to realize the benefits of widening existing easements on their land on the lower 140 miles of the proposed route.

Northern Pass's Proposition

 In the newsletter, NP says that if property owners with existing PSNH rights-of-way (ROWs) agree to widen the easements on their property, those owners (and, by implication, their neighbors) would benefit because Northern Pass might be able to construct lower towers and Northern Pass might not have to remove the existing transmission line and reconstruct it in order to make room for the proposed new line. This might save landowners a second construction disruption since only the new line would have to be installed on the expanded ROW. Lower towers, less construction disturbance is what NP dangles in front of landowners in return for a "modestly expanded" easement.

Oops, the Cat is Out of the Bag

We'll ignore those pesky conditional "mights" in NP's proposition. They are standard fare in anything NP writes and one of the reasons that NH citizens have grown so wary of the proposed project. Let's daylight the deeper message submerged in Northern Pass's proposition to "help out" landowners: some of PSNH's historic 1930s and 1940s ROWs are so narrow that the only way to fit the proposed DC line is first to remove the existing AC line in the center of the easement and reconstruct it on the edge of the ROW. On the opposite edge, the proposed new DC line would be built. Instead of a powerline with 50' wooden poles running down the centerline of a 150' easement, the hybrid PSNH-NP easement would have new steel poles for the relocated AC line on one edge of the ROW  and new steel lattice towers for the DC line on the other edge.

How close to the edge?

How close to the edge of the unexpanded ROW would the towers be? NP has never answered that question directly -- and it must be asked. If one judges from NP's June 2011 application for a special use permit from the White Mountain National Forest, however, the towers would hug the edges. After removing the current poles on the centerline, NP proposes to place vertical wood or steel structures from 65' to 110' high on one side of the 150' wide ROW; on the other side would go steel structures from 100' to 135' high. If one uses the uppermost heights, 110' and 135', and co-locates the towers within a 150' corridor, they would have to be situated at the extreme edge of the ROW to meet national electrical safety codes.

Overburdened Easements, Unreasonable Use

If NP were to construct 110' steel poles on one edge of an unexpanded ROW and 135' lattice towers on the other edge in a residential or commercial area, it could overburden the easement and place residences, businesses, and schools within the hazardous fall zone of the towers and wires. It could jeopardize a homeowner's ability to get a federal or private mortgage and to sell the house. And it could also expose people, especially children, to unhealthy levels of EMF radiation within the 300' danger zone. The project's builders could expect to open themselves up to legal challenges of unreasonable use of the easement.

PSNH-NP does not want to go there. Instead, they want landowners to help them out of the bind by expanding easements. Indeed, PSNH and NP need landowners with existing easements to help them get their project built by granting more land. Who benefits from expanded easements? PSNH and NP, not property owners. Property owners simply get the other of the two Morton's Fork unacceptable options.

Do you want to help build Northern Pass by expanding your easement?

Stop and think it through. Why is Northern Pass being so "nice" to you and sending you a newsletter telling you about the benefits to you of your giving them more land?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Northern Pass and Morton's Fork

Northern Pass unveiled Issue 1 of its new Landowner Newsletter (November 2011) on its website on November 22. It is buried deeply; you may find it here. There is much to comment upon in it, much to expose as false or misleading, but this blog focuses only upon the "Expansion as an Option" column on page 2. We call the option a Morton's Fork, an apparent choice that in fact is no choice at all, hence ethically or morally corrupt. (Morton was Henry VIII's tax collector; he figured out a cynical way to get more money out of Henry's subjects whether they appeared to be rich or poor.) It's the choice between giving up your left leg or your right arm. In contemporary culture, the film "Sophie's Choice" offers the best known example: the two options offered the protagonist are equally tragic and morally heinous.

"Expansion as an Option"

In its new newsletter, Northern Pass dispassionately explains that if landowners with existing rights of way (ROWs) wish to avoid unacceptably high towers or other consequences (moving the existing AC or other line, for one), they simply need to grant Northern Pass a wider easement. Note the conditional "may reduce" tower heights or construction disturbances in the offer:

Expansion as an Option: Benefits of Right-of-Way Expansion
In certain sections of the Northern Pass route along the existing right-of-way, expanding that right-of-way may minimize construction work and/or lower the height of the structures proposed to be installed on your property.

The height and location of structures for the proposed transmission line and related construction activities to install them will depend on many factors, including the terrain and width of the existing right-of-way, and the number and locations of the existing power structures already located there. As a landowner with an existing PSNH right-of-way, you are invited to work with the Northern Pass team as they prepare preliminary designs for the proposed project on your property. In some locations, allowing for a modestly wider right-of-way may help to reduce construction activity on the property, allowing for the project to proceed without having to first relocate the existing line and then return at a later time to install the proposed Northern Pass line. A wider right-of-way may also allow for the use of a lower height structure

Northern Pass does not spell it out, but their existing ROWs are too narrow in many places to accommodate the second, HVDC line without moving the existing AC line from the center to the edge of the ROW. This is not merely, as Northern Pass calls it, a matter of construction activity. Situating a line closer to the edge of the ROW potentially endangers houses that would then be within the real (not "engineered") fall zone of the poles and wires or within the zone of increased EMF radiation that is beyond the level considered prudent by medical authorities.

In other words, Northern Pass says, if landowners don't grant a wider easement, they face higher towers, towers closer to their residences, businesses, or schools, as well as higher EMF radiation levels. But the so-called choice is up to landowners. Give Northern Pass your left leg -- or your right arm.

Collaborators and Eminent Domain

Northern Pass goes on to explain that in a given stretch of ROW, more than one landowner must collaborate with Northern Pass to expand the easement:

Expanding the right-of-way, however, must be a collaborative
decision involving multiple landowners
along specific portions of the existing rights-of-way
proposed to be used for The Northern Pass project .
If you have been identified as a landowner along
the route where expansion is an option, we will be
glad to show you the design and discuss options

If Neighbor A, B, and E want to collaborate with Northern Pass, but Neighbor C refuses, what happens? Can A, B, and E exert legal pressure upon C? Or, would Northern Pass go to the PUC at the end of the process and request that C's property be taken by eminent domain to widen the ROW because A, B, and E have agreed to collaborate? (Northern Pass has specified in its TSA filing that eminent domain seizure requests would be made at the end of the permitting process, not now.)

A Double Injury

Not only is Northern Pass offering landowners a morally and ethically unacceptable "Morton's Fork" choice, but it would pit neighbor against neighbor and shred the fabric of community rapport. The resulting distress and ill feeling would last for decades and seriously erode the quality of life in ROW towns. This is already starting to happen in Coos County; now the rest of New Hampshire is coming under assault as well.

A Third Way: The Pick Axe

The ethical and moral dilemma of being forced to choose between two unacceptable options is resolved through the realization or creation of  a third option.

When one is between a rock and a hard place, a pick axe is called for.

Bury Northern Pass calls upon landowners with existing ROWs not to accept the situation that Northern Pass is forcing them into, a coerced choice between two unacceptable options.

Demand a real choice. Demand that Northern Pass offer true options that do not endanger our homes, our health, our property values, our sense of self and of place, the bonds between neighbors, the quality of our community life.

If Northern Pass approaches you with its Morton's Fork choice of expanded ROWs or higher towers, you need not talk to them. If you do, demand an answer to the question of what happens if you don't collaborate and your neighbors do. Talk with your neighbors. Seek legal advice before you sign anything or commit yourself verbally. Call your legislators and ask them to come out and visit your property and listen to your story. Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper. Or send an email to: burynorthernpass@gmail.com

The Monday of Thanksgiving week was an especially callous time for Northern Pass to reveal this latest landowner and community stressor. But don't let it ruin your holiday. Think "pick axe."

Happy Thanksgiving.

[A follow up blog, "Expanding your easement . . . think it through," is here]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tillotson: Trust, or Betrayal of Trust?

This guest blog was originally posted by Responsible Energy Action LLC (REAL) on its website on November 17, 2011. It is reposted here with REAL's permission.

REAL’s October 20, 2011 map of Northern Pass’s proposed new route through upper Coos County ends abruptly in the area of the Tillotson properties in Dixville.  When we drew the map we were aware that Northern Pass had approached the Tillotson interests about acquisition of a route through the Tillotson land.  But we didn’t extend the route map through Tillotson land.  We believed there was a strong likelihood that “quiet” conversations with Tillotson stakeholders would be sufficient to remind them of their duties to the North Country and bring about an immediate halt to any Tillotson/Northern Pass discussions.

We were wrong.

Recent reports in the Coos County Democrat and on NHPR confirm that the Tillotson Trust has received an offer from Northern Pass (or an affiliate) to purchase property or property rights.  The press reports indicate that the Trust is evaluating the offer and will make an announcement prior to Thanksgiving.

Why does the Tillotson land matter?  Because it is a critical part of the upper Coos route puzzle.  While there is as yet no independent confirmation, REAL believes that Northern Pass is seeking to cross the Tillotson properties in an easterly direction north of Mud Pond to get to the east side of Sanguinary Mountain Ridge.  From there the line is likely to head south on the Errol side of Dixville Notch State Park into the vicinity of the new Granite Reliable wind farm. Northern Pass could then seek to locate its transmission line near or on the right of way (ROW) for the wind park connector line.  The connector line runs south through Millsfield and Dummer to reach the Coos Loop, which is part of PSNH’s transmission line system.  It is believed that Northern Pass would then seek to  co-locate its lines along PSNH’s Coos Loop ROW either running westerly through Stark to Northumberland, then south to Lancaster and Whitefield or the other direction on the Coos Loop running southeasterly through Milan and Berlin and then westerly through Gorham, Randolph, and Jefferson to Whitefield.  Northern Pass could then seek to connect to Northern Pass’s original “preferred route” running south along PSNH’s existing ROWs through Whitefield and points below.

REAL remains hopeful that the Trustees who manage the Tillotson Trust will do the right thing.  The Trustees are duty bound to follow the wishes of Neil Tillotson and the principles of the Trust documents.  The overarching purpose of the Trust is to benefit the North Country and its residents.  And under the Trust documents the Trustees are directed to give special consideration to, among other things:
  • “conservation and sustainable utilization of the natural resources of the North Country, including Tillotson Corporation’s North Country forest land holdings”
  • “economic development and enhancement of the North Country economy”
  • “promotion and support of the health, education, cultural advancement and economic wellbeing of the residents of the North Country”
In REAL’s view, it is beyond any serious argument that Northern Pass’s proposal — to bisect beautiful and largely untouched areas of the North Country with visually jarring, environmentally damaging and value-destroying above-ground transmission lines — is flatly inconsistent with the Trust’s mandates.  The North Country’s natural resources would be irrevocably compromised; economic development in the region would be seriously impaired; and the wellbeing and sense of place of North Country residents would be critically damaged.

REAL calls on the Trustees of the Tillotson Trust to clearly and irrevocably reject any offer from Northern Pass.  We call on the Trustees do what is right for the North Country.

REAL would also issue a call to action to residents of (and stakeholders in) the North Country, New Hampshire and New England.  We call on you to pass a message to the Trustees and state regulators that the people expect the Trust directions of Neil Tillotson to be honored; and we will not tolerate an action that would be a betrayal of that Trust.

Please call or write to the Trustees of the Tillotson Trust and tell them how you feel about a possible sale of Tillotson land to Northern Pass.  REAL members are contacting the Trustees to make our views known, and we ask you to join us.  The Trustees are Thomas Deans, William Alico, Stephen Barba, Grafton Corbett, John Cornish, Everett Pearson, and Robert Wells.  The Trustees for whom we have contact information are listed below.  We will update the list as we obtain additional contact information.

Thomas S. Deans
353 Potter Road
Center Conway, NH 03813
(603) 447-6914
Email: tomd@conwaylakedeans.com

Stephen BarbaOffice of the President
Plymouth State University
17 High Street
Plymouth, NH 03264
(603) 535-2722
Email: sbarba@plymouth.edu

John M. Cornish, Esq.Choate Hall & Stewart LLP
Two International Place
Boston, MA 02110
Tel: 617-248-5000
Email: jcornish@choate.com

Robert A. Wells, Esq.
McLane Graf Raulerson & Middleton
City Hall Plaza
900 Elm Street
Manchester, NH 03101
Tel: 603-628-1307
Email: bob.wells@mclane.com

Please also call, email or write to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office.  The Attorney General’s office must approve any proposed sale by the Tillotson Trust.  Please let the Attorney General’s office know how you feel about a sale of land to Northern Pass.  The contact information for the Attorney General’s office is as follows:

Anthony I. Blenkinsop, Esq.
Director of Charitable Trusts
Office of the Attorney General
Charitable Trusts Unit
33 Capitol Street
Concord, NH  03301
Tel:  603-271-3591
Email: charitabletrusts2@doj.nh.gov

Unlike some of the North Country families targeted by Northern Pass’s aggressive land purchasers, the Tillotson Trust is not facing economic hardship.  As of December 31, 2010, the Trust’s assets were valued at more than $66 million. The Trust does not have its back up against the wall and does not need to make a rushed, ill-considered decision.  Neither does the Attorney General’s office.
If for any reason the Trustees and the Attorney General do not summarily reject any sale to Northern Pass based on the intent and principles of the Trust, then, prior to any decision, they should undertake an open, robust process to assess the interests of North Country stakeholders.  They should look at all alternatives.

Neil Tillotson treasured what he called the “scenic wonder” and “exciting beauty” of Dixville Notch, and he labored for almost half a century to preserve it. Part of his legacy today is the natural appearing scenery that Dixville Notch offers both local residents and visitors from all over the world. Surely there are better alternatives than Northern Pass’s proposal of jarring and destructive above-ground transmission lines in some of the state’s most sensitive and beautiful areas.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

PSNH's Way, NOT the Highway

On October 27, Department of Transportation Commissioner Christopher D. Clement, Sr., addressed the North Country Council annual meeting at Bretton Woods. Commissioner Clement has confirmed the accuracy of the following paraphrase of a statement he made in response to an audience question.

Christopher Clement, the Commissioner of NH DOT, addressed the North Country
Council annual meeting at Bretton Woods on October 27. He was asked about
the possibility of burying utility lines, such as those for the Northern
Pass project, in state-owned transportation corridors. Clement responded
that the DOT has not received a proposal from the utility company.  Upon
receipt of such a proposal, DOT has a process for use of State-owned
right-of-ways, and the DOT is prepared to perform the required analysis for
such a proposal.

In other words, with virtually everyone in New Hampshire calling upon Northern Pass to explore the possibility of using existing highway rights-of-way for an underground transmission line, Northern Pass has not even bothered to talk to DOT about it. Wouldn't you think Northern Pass would have at least put out a feeler by now? No. This is absolutely astounding!

The DOT stands ready to do the required analysis for Northern Pass; indeed, reading between the lines, it sounds as if they are a little surprised that they haven't received an inquiry yet. We're ready to do the analysis, DOT says, but the ball is in Northern Pass's court to initiate the proposal.

But PSNH isn't playing ball. It's so utterly fixated on getting itself bailed out by Hydro Quebec's fees for renting PSNH ROWs that it won't explore any other options. It's "full speed ahead" on building a damaging overhead transmission line and who cares about the public or the state of New Hampshire.

When PSNH finally concedes that there are so many technical and legal roadblocks to constructing 135' towers on its 140 miles of existing ROWs that it's virtually impossible to accomplish, they'll have to come back to the DOT.

In the meanwhile, PSNH holds New Hampshire hostage to its greedy insistence upon renting out its ROWs to a project that would use Civil War era technology regardless of its known highly negative impacts.