Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Easton: Northern Pass on Hot Seat

Click here for a video of the Easton Selectboard meeting by Bulldog Media of NH.

Easton: Northern Pass Team On Hot Seat

Public Hearing On Northern Pass Nov. 18 In Franconia

By Robert Blechl, Staff Writer
Caledonian Record

EASTON -- As they did in Franconia and Sugar Hill last month, a Northern Pass team visited Easton Monday for a similar project presentation and were met with dozens of area residents and town representatives who came prepared with many questions that put them on the hot seat.

Although the line as revised in August replaces the proposed towers in Easton with 9.4 miles of underground line buried along the shoulders and travel lanes of Routes 116 and 112, many residents were concerned about environmental impacts and impacts to residential properties.

Summing up Monday evening's sentiment, Easton Conservation Commission Chairman Roy Stever said, "People in this town deserve your transparency."

The first question asked was what has now become the burning question in the tri-town area -- why can't the line be buried along Interstate 93.

Attorney Mark Hodgdon, contracted by Northern Pass, said there are a number of reasons I-93 won't work, among them the N.H. Department of Transportation saying that utilities such as Eversource, the parent company of Northern Pass, must show extreme hardship to use any of their corridors.

But Selectman Debbie Stever pointed out that the DOT several years ago identified I-93 as an energy corridor.

Hodgdon said he is aware of that, but did not comment further.

Roy Stever said Northern Pass for years was saying it can't bury lines and now is saying it can, but only along roads through Easton.

"You're only at 30 percent of your engineering," said Stever, "I ask you to keep an open mind."
Interstate 93 is fewer miles and has fewer obstructions, he said.

Roy Stever also asked how the environmental impacts along the interstate compare to Routes 116 and 112 and if they are more or less.

Hodgdon did not have an answer, and did not promise one, but said he'll submit the question.
Company profit was also brought up, and Debbie Stever said towns are hearing about cost estimates but not about the revenue Eversource would make off the hydro-electric transmission line that for assessment purposes has a net book life of 40 years.

"Does Eversource earn more money if you go down Routes 116 and 112 than if you go down I-93?" she asked.

Eversource representatives did not respond.

Some 70 percent of Easton is within national forest, and Roy Stever said the U.S. Forest Service will have to be part of the permitting process.

He also voiced concern about Eversource utility poles abandoned in the 1980s in the town's higher elevations that he said are now leaching chemicals into waterways including the Ham Branch.

Ten streams go under roads in Easton.

Roy Stever said the town is concerned about impacts to its watersheds and asked what best management practices Eversource has in place and if the town can read them.

As the project enters another year, a legal fight could be in the future regarding who owns the dirt under the roads.

As they said in Sugar Hill and other towns, Easton residents and town officials say the landowners own the land under the roads and argue Northern Pass will have to seek permission from those landowners to bury the line if the project moves forward.

Posted on many properties along Route 116 in Franconia and Easton Monday were signs reading, "No Northern Pass on 116."

Roy Stever expressed frustration at what he said has been a lack of answers by the company and no appearance by company representatives until Monday, even though the conservation commission for several years had been requesting a meeting.

Several years ago, company representatives said they would meet with the town well before the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee process, he said.

"That didn't happen," said Stever.

The SEC process began with a round of informational sessions in September.

Following a Northern Pass presentation last month in Franconia, a public hearing to gather comments on the company's proposal in that town will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at Franconia Town Hall.