Thursday, March 13, 2014

Looming Northern Pass Fight Hot Topic at Sugar Hill

A report on the 2014 town meeting in Sugar Hill, where "Northern Pass has been highly controversial and is widely despised."

Land Conservation, Looming Northern Pass Fight Hot Topics At Sugar Hill [excerpt]

Meghan McCarthy McPhaul
News Correspondent
Caledonian Record

SUGAR HILL, N.H. -- About 75 residents filled the Sugar Hill Meetinghouse for the 2014 Town Meeting Tuesday night, where conservation of town lands and preparing for a fight with the proposed Northern Pass electric transmission project were the main items of discussion.

There was little conversation through the first nine warrant articles, as voters unanimously approved the $1.3 million town operating budget and warrant articles totaling an additional $245,000.

These articles included funding for the Heavy Equipment Capital Reserve funds for both the highway department and fire department; roadwork improvement; bridge work; and Building Capital Reserve funds for the highway department, fire department, and Carolina Crapo Building, where the town offices are located.

Articles 10 and 11 related to raising funds to be used in legal and other costs related to the Northern Pass project. The proposed transmission line would pass through Sugar Hill, carrying Canadian hydropower to the regional electric grid. Northern Pass has been highly controversial and is widely despised in Sugar Hill and neighboring towns, where many residents and municipal leaders believe the project would be detrimental to property values and the tourism industry.

Warrant Article 10, which was approved unanimously, allows an appropriation of $10,000 to create a new trust fund to finance "legal expenses and other costs incurred by the Town in advocating the Town's opposition to the Northern Pass project."

"The town voted in 2010 to oppose this project," Board of Selectman Chair Margo Connors said during town meeting discussion. "This fund would be strictly for legal advice. It's not to mount any type of suit. This is just to protect ourselves and get good counsel."

Town meeting voters also unanimously passed Article 11, which allows the town to accept donations, gifts, and grants to use for legal and other costs related to opposing the Northern Pass project.

Connors said the selectmen have talked with representatives from other towns about collaborating and combining resources to fight Northern Pass. One way to do this, she said, would be to file as an intervener to the state's Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) process. The SEC must review and approve all energy projects in New Hampshire. By gaining intervener status, Sugar Hill and collaborating towns would gain access to all reports and information filed by Northern Pass and could contest specific aspects of the proposed project.

The longest discussion of the meeting was related to Article 12, which was petitioned to the warrant. The article would have restricted town conservation funds, garnered when property is taken out of current use and taxed accordingly, to be used only for projects within the town's property lines.

"I would like to see the conservation money kept in our own town of Sugar Hill," said petitioner Lissa Boissonneault. "I think there's a lot to be conserved here."

Several residents voiced their support of keeping town conservation funds within the town lines. Others, like Conservation Commission member Bill Fraser, argued that sometimes view sheds are outside the town boundaries, but are still important to residents. Last year the town contributed funding to the purchase of the 800-acre Cooley-Jericho Community Forest, which includes land in Sugar Hill, Landaff, Franconia, and Easton. Each of those towns, as well as Bethlehem, contributed to the effort, which was managed by the Sugar Hill-based Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust.

After a lengthy discussion about the legal technicalities, intent, and potential ramifications of the petitioned article, voters tabled Article 12. Conservation Commission member Tim Williams suggested the Commission create a set of guidelines, with public input, to determine what types of projects should be supported with the conservation funds, in an effort to alleviate residents' concerns on the matter.

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