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]