Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Tribute to North Country Landowners

Bury the Northern Pass joins with Bob Baker (Columbia, NH) in paying tribute to the brave and selfless landowners of Coos County who value landscape, heritage, and community over private gain.

Open letter to the landowners of Coos County who are refusing to sell out to Northern Pass:

It was just one year ago that Northern Pass was telling the public and its investors that the 1200 MW High Voltage Transmission Line it was planning for Hydro Quebec would be constructed on the backs of New Hampshire landowners in 2013; and that the new transmission line would be in service by 2015.  However, the fact is that Northern Pass is no further ahead in building this ill-conceived project than it was a year ago. Its application for a Presidential Permit is frozen in place with many scoping steps yet to be accomplished before an Environmental Impact Statement can be designed and prepared. In fact, Northern Pass is so far behind schedule that even it acknowledges that the project can't possibly be in service until late in 2016.

What is holding up the project?  It is not just the virtually unanimous objections to the project in the New Hampshire communities that would be impacted by the construction of the transmission lines and towers—Franklin being an exception. It is not just the successful passage in the State Senate of legislation—House Bill 648-- against the use of eminent domain for transmission projects such as Northern Pass.

It is much more. It involves massive landowner opposition in Coos County where Northern Pass is attempting to cobble together a new route running from the Canadian Border to Groveton.  After being confronted with massive adverse testimony in the federal Department of Energy (“DOE”) scoping hearings held last March and April, Northern Pass announced that it was “listening” to the people and that it would be working on finding a new route in Coos County. Last May, Martin Murray, Northern Pass’s public relations specialist, told the press that Northern Pass was having much success in “talking with landowners.” Northern Pass even told the press that it would announce a new route in June of 2011.

Of course, mid-June came and went without a new route being announced; and the DOE extended the scoping comment period indefinitely pending Northern Pass identifying a new route from Groveton north to the Canadian border. 

On August 3, 2011, Northern Pass made this announcement:  “…the project’s expected in-service date has been modified to 2016, with construction expected in the 2014 – 2016 time frame, compared to the initial range of 2013 – 2015.  Our goal has been to locate the line within existing rights of way, as much as possible, and to minimize potential impacts for residents and communities. We listened to residents’ input and concerns, and determined that an alternative route is appropriate in the area north of Groveton, and that it can be developed without any increase in the project cost or benefits. The only change is in the construction schedule. The project expects to announce the new preferred route for that area later this year.”

But that didn’t happen either. “Later this year” came and went and so did a hoped-for right of way invasion of the Balsams properties in Stewartstown and Dixville that Northern Pass was apparently counting on for its new, so called landowner-friendly route. Speaking of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests’ acquisition of a conservation easement over the Balsams property and extinguishment of Northern Pass’s hoped-for right of way, here is what Northern Pass told the public earlier in January:  “While Northern Pass had an interest in this specific utility right of way, we are continuing to successfully work with landowners as we consider other routing alternatives. We look forward to soon announcing a new proposed route that has the support of underlying land owners.” 

But “soon” isn’t happening either. This was acknowledged two weeks later when Northern Pass dropped the “soon” prediction and simply claimed that it was still working “successfully with property owners to purchase land or easements to develop an acceptable route in that area of the North Country where there is no existing transmission right of way.” 

Get the picture? One delay after another. Numerous landowners are still refusing to sell out the North Country. They believe that our landscapes, our values, our ability to be right with the world—indeed our very essence--require that our communities not be damaged by the infliction of above ground high voltage transmission lines. They want the land to be preserved for our children and grandchildren to enjoy in the same ways that we have been privileged to enjoy.  They want to be good neighbors to the rest of the state. 

So don’t believe any of the Northern Pass claims that they are “successfully” working with property owners to develop an acceptable route through the North Country.  Fact is that there is no such “acceptable route.”  Fact is that landowners are declining huge offers of cash virtually every day.  Fact is that there wasn’t an announced new route in June as promised.  Fact is there wasn’t an announced new route “later” in 2011 as promised.  Fact is there won’t be a new route announced “soon”. 

My hat is off to the brave landowners of the North Country who have turned down enormous offers of money in order to preserve their properties and our scenic values for the benefit of family, friends and neighbors—indeed the benefit of all of us in the State of New Hampshire.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Bob Baker