Friday, November 9, 2012

Hydro Quebec Towers: A "Significant Chilling Effect" on Property's Value

The NH Board of Tax and Land Appeals ruled that the first HVDC power line in New Hampshire had a "significant chilling effect" on a property's value and granted a tax abatement of 50%. 

In a November 4th Union Leader article, "Northern Pass scares buyers, lowers values," Northern Pass spokesman Michael Skelton dismissed as biased opinion, not fact, the statements of two respected owner/broker realtors that the proposed project has already diminished property values along the intended route by as much as 50%. Skelton shifted the focus by asking whether people stopped
"visiting New Hampshire after the existing high-voltage transmission line from Quebec was built 20 years ago."

The relevant question that Skelton should have asked was: did that high voltage transmission line from Quebec reduce property values 20 years ago?

The answer is: yes, according to a property tax abatement order issued by the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA)* in 1992.

Before the BTLA issued that order, however, the developer of the high voltage direct current line from Quebec, the New England Hydro Transmission Company, Inc., had hired a local appraiser, Stewart Lamprey of Meredith, to assess "what economic impact, if any, transmission lines have upon adjacent property values."

Mr. Lamprey concluded that "the proximity to overhead high voltage transmission lines has no measurable effect on property values. This appears to be true whether a property is abutting, traversed, or visually affected by a power easement" (n.p., Land Utilization Study Along the Proposed Phase 2 Transmission Line in the State of New Hampshire, Jan. 18, 1986).

In 1986, the NH Site Evaluation Committee approved the Quebec line in part because "no contradictory evidence was introduced to rebut Mr. Lamprey's testimony" (p.15) that the project would have negligible effect upon property values."

But in 1992, two landowners along the Quebec line whose request for a property tax abatement had been turned down by their municipality, Wentworth, successfully appealed the decision with the BTLA,  which agreed that the new power line had a "significant chilling effect" on property values. We have no count at this time of how many abatement requests were granted by towns, obviating the need for appeals to the BTLA, nor how many appeals may have been filed in Superior Court rather than with the BTLA. Given the BTLA's response to these two appellants, however, it is likely that there were more than a few. 

 In 1987, the appellants purchased land and buildings in Wentworth for $135, 000. They were unaware that New England Hydro was about to construct Hydro-Quebec transmission towers on the right of way on the property. In 1989 and 1990, the town assessed the property at $133,800. The landowners appealed the assessment to the BTLA. Their appeal included the following arguments:

(2) since the date of purchase [the developer, New England Hydro] has erected Hydro-Quebec transmission towers in the right-of-way;
(3) a 350 ft. by 1400 ft. power line easement results in less than 1/2 acre of usable land;
(4) the Property is "unmarketable at any price";
(5) they paid too much for the Property because they weren't aware of the major "imminent expansion" by [the developer]. (
p. 1

BTLA found the arguments compelling, citing both the visual impact and stigma associated with EMF radiation from high voltage lines:

(1) the fact that through ignorance of the Hydro-Quebec expansion the Taxpayers paid too much for the property should not go unadjusted;
(2) the knowledge of the impending construction of the Hydro-Quebec line would have a significant chilling effect on the value dwelling (and in general the property) in such close proximity due to both its visual effect and the uncertainty of the health concerns raised by electromagnetic radiation [emphasis added];
(3) owing to the close proximity (within 50 ft. according to the Taxpayers) of the house to the edge of the the very shadow of the tower, the Board applies a 50% reduction to the total value and leaves the allocation of value between land and building to the Town. (
p. 2)

BTLA reduced the town of Wentworth's assessment of $133,800 to $66,900, a 50% decline in valuation.  

Towns and landowners along the intended path of the proposed new Hydro Quebec line would do well to learn from history -- before it is too late. As did the developer of the first Hydro Quebec line, Northern Pass is already asserting that power lines have  little to no effect on property values.

As for Northern Pass, will it also dismiss the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeal's 50% reduction of the value of a property impacted by Hydro Quebec towers as a biased opinion by people who opposed power lines -- or file an ethics complaint?
*Appointed by the supreme court of New Hampshire, the three full-time members of the BTLA are "learned and experienced in questions of taxation or of real estate valuation and appraisal."  Board members "do not engage in any other employment during their terms that is in conflict with their duties as members of the board."

Hydro-Quebec HVDC tower, Wentworth NH