Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Northern Pass Tries to Torpedo Tillotson Conservation Easement

Yesterday Northern Pass made an emergency filing with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office seeking to overturn the Tillotson trustees’ decision to conserve the bulk of the Tillotson land. The filing is available here. This guest blog presents an overview of the filing and looks at the larger implications of this extraordinary document. The second blog in this two-part series analyzes more specifically the six reasons why Northern Pass's filing will fail.

Northern Pass's emergency filing lays bare its arrogance, corporate greed and disregard for the common good.  It also shows that the entire Northern Pass proposal is hanging by a thread.
As an overview, Northern Pass makes the patently absurd argument (based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of the Tillotson trust) that its proposed transmission lines provide more benefits to the North Country than conserving the Tillotson land.  Northern Pass attacks the Tillotson trustees by claiming they have breached their fiduciary duties.  Finally, Northern Pass makes broad threats of litigation, apparently against all parties including the Attorney General’s office itself.
We’re fully confident the Attorney General will summarily reject Northern Pass’s filing and will approve the trustees’ sound decision to conserve the Tillotson land.  But to be sure the voice of the people is heard, please email your comments to Mr. Blenkinsop at the Attorney General’s office at  Mr. Blenkinsop is in charge of this matter.  Please ask him to approve the conservation of the Tillotson land.
After you email Mr. Blenkinsop, take a step back and think about this situation.  Things are not looking good for Northern Pass.
First, Northern Pass has now lost any remaining credibility in the eminent domain debate.  Northern Pass’s original proposal in October 2010 would have relied on massive use of eminent domain to ram the transmission lines over the property of non-consenting landowners and through the very heart of the North Country.  After a huge public uproar, Northern Pass supposedly saw the light and said it would find a new route through the North Country based on “consensual” transactions – that is, willing sales by landowners.
Now, an important landowner – the Tillotson trust – has decided it does not want to sell to Northern Pass.  The trustees instead made a sound decision under the principles of the trust documents to conserve the land and prevent Northern Pass’s transmission lines from crossing the land.  That should be the end of the story for this piece of land.  A landowner decision should be respected, and Northern Pass should move on and look for a different route.
But Northern Pass doesn’t respect landowners and doesn't have the integrity of its word.  “Consensual” is no longer part of Northern Pass’s dialog.  Instead, with the filing made yesterday, Northern Pass is seeking to use the force of government (here, the Attorney General’s office) to compel the Tillotson trustees to sell an easement for the transmission lines.
Down in Concord, our legislators should be saying “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”
If this is what a “consensual” transaction with a landowner looks like to Northern Pass, you can’t have any doubt that Northern Pass will seek to use eminent domain against non-consenting landowners up and down the proposed route.  Northern Pass simply has no credibility left when it talks about consensual transactions or commits to seek alternatives to eminent domain.
Second, yesterday’s filing shows that Northern Pass has been blocked in finding an alternative route in Coos County.  Northern Pass or its affiliates have now spent more than $7 million buying up properties in an attempt to cobble together a new route for the transmission lines.  They have been fully blocked at the Tillotson land, and there is no apparent way around this block.
With massive use of eminent domain politically impossible in New Hampshire (and any use of eminent domain almost certainly legally prohibited), what options does Northern Pass have left?  We believe they have no viable alternatives in Coos County.
Third, PSNH and Northeast Utilities are rapidly losing any remaining credibility in the political halls in Concord and, more importantly, with the paymasters at Hydro-Quebec.  PSNH promised it could deliver HQ a route for the lines through New Hampshire.  PSNH promised a “cheap” route using above-ground transmission lines.  PSNH thought it had the political muscle in Concord to push through the environmental injustice of yesterday’s technology of above-ground lines. 
With no route through Coos County, this vision is now falling away.  Concord’s politicians (and HQ) are undoubtedly wondering about the end game and their own credibility for going so far out on the limb to support PSNH.
We expect even long-time PSNH acolytes like Jeb Bradley to see the writing on the wall.  They’ll quietly begin to distance themselves from the PSNH/Northern Pass Titanic before it goes down.
And Hydro-Quebec must at this point realize they were sold a bill of goods.  PSNH can’t deliver what it promised.  Indeed, PSNH’s huge missteps have damaged HQ’s reputation and put into doubt whether any HQ transmission lines will be able to cross New Hampshire.  We expect HQ will soon put a freeze on further spending on Northern Pass and will start to look seriously at alternatives such as buried lines on state-owned rights of way or transactions in other states.

The blog continues here.

Please email your comments to Mr. Anthony Blenkinsop at