Sunday, July 23, 2017

Franconia area residents take local concerns about Northern Pass to Concord (July 20, 2017)

Franconia area residents take local concerns about Northern Pass to Concord

SEC Public Statement Hearing, Concord, July 20, 2017

Patricia Kellogg displays "New Hampshire's Heritage" at the
SEC Public Hearing in Concord, July 20, 2017

Along with over thirty other New Hampshire citizens and a delegation from the Pessamit Innu First Nation in Quebec, six Franconia area residents traveled to Concord on July 20 to voice their concerns about the proposed Northern Pass project to the Site Evaluation Committee, which is currently deciding whether or not to permit the 192-mile transmission line. This was the third hearing held in the last month for non-intervenors to state their views to the SEC.

Grouped into two parties, two dozen residents of Bethlehem, Franconia, Easton, and Plymouth who live along the proposed underground route were granted pro se intervenor status in 2016, and representatives of these two groups have been participating in the adjudicative process for the last 18 months. In the White Mountains area, the towns of Littleton, Bethlehem, Franconia, Sugar Hill, Easton, Plymouth, and Ashland have retained counsel to represent them as intervenors, with County Attorney Lara Saffo representing the Grafton County Commissioners.

SEC Chair Martin Honigberg noted that the July 20th session was the sixteenth public hearing that the SEC has held on this project and that the nearly 1900 written comments submitted to date and posted on the SEC’s website are running 12 to 1 against the project as proposed.

In the July 20th hearing, Franconia area speakers stressed heritage – both what we have inherited and what we must strive to pass on to future generations. As a third generation family owner of Polly’s Pancake Parlor, which opened in 1938, Katherine Aldrich Cote remarked that the Franconia area has been known as “a destination for tourists escaping the heat, noise, and traffic of cities since the late 1800’s.” She noted that Polly’s has kept meticulous attendance records and knows how past road construction and other events along Route 18/116 in Franconia, the proposed site of the construction project to install the Northern Pass cable, have negatively affected business. Over two-thirds of Polly’s guests travel that route to reach Sugar Hill. Project sponsors estimate a minimum of two construction years – April to November – to install the underground cable, which, Cote said, collides with the annual peak period of Polly’s visitors. In 2016, Polly’s served 71, 031 of its 93, 500 customers between April and October.

Cote presented the SEC with 75 letters voicing similar concerns about the impacts of underground construction on Franconia area businesses and implored the committee “to consider the negative long-term effects of this project on our small towns and businesses. Tourist will avoid the area, find other destinations to visit, and may not return for many years, if at all.”

Patricia Kellogg, Littleton, displayed a large photo entitled “New Hampshire’s Heritage.” It reproduces a well-known nineteenth century painting of Franconia Notch on which her husband, a licensed surveyor, has drawn in a simulation of Northern Pass’s towers and wires to underscore the point that tourists do not visit the Franconia area to experience major infrastructure projects. She also implored the SEC to preserve “the New Hampshire advantage,” our pristine scenic heritage, for future generations to enjoy.

Dorothy McPhaul, Sugar Hill, and Brenda Shannon Adam, Easton, coordinated their statements to contrast the proposed underground routes of Northern Pass and of a rival project in Vermont, the New England Clean Power Link, which is now fully permitted. McPhaul drove the 57-mile overland portion of the NECPL route from Benson to Ludlow, Vt. on July 10 and observed that the differences between it and Northern Pass’s underground plans are “stunning.” The Vermont project, sited on four-lane highways and back roads that two towns have approved, will bypass all municipal centers, allowing them to continue business as usual. “NECPL is done with intensive planning by experts who care about the people as well as the finished product,” McPhaul said. “Northern Pass is a jumbled up mess of partially thought out plans, partially conducted studies, outdated maps and data, a staff of puppets, a reliance on its attorneys and contacts to make exceptions, grant waivers, ignore deficiencies, fool the public, lie if need be, and with plans ‘made as you go’ without sufficient knowledge and research,” she charged.

Adam drove Northern Pass’s proposed 52-mile underground route from Bethlehem to Bridgewater on July 2, the day after flash flooding swept through Grafton County, wondering “if the narrow ancient corduroy roads would disintegrate and swallow me up in an underground river like the videos I watched of 25A in nearby Orford.” How will these fragile roads hold up, she asked the SEC, when Northern Pass increases the traffic by 120% with heavy construction vehicles? As a further insult, Adam remarked, “the route cuts through the heart of three significant economic centers - Franconia, North Woodstock, Plymouth.”

Susan Ford, Easton, reminded the SEC that small towns in the North Country’s mountainous terrain have a limited number of roads. Downtown Concord was recently torn up for two years during a construction project to enhance the business district, but Ford knew she could avoid Main Street construction by traveling on Storrs Street, State Street or Green Street, and she could walk on sidewalks to Main Street businesses. “There is only one almost parallel road to Rt. 116 in Franconia and that’s five miles away. We can’t go around the block – there are no blocks,” Ford said. As a former Representative, Ford also reminded the SEC that the New Hampshire Legislature has reconfigured the siting process to include a “public interest” standard. The public interest is best served, Ford concluded, by moving the Northern Pass project to I-93.

The protracted length of the project and the intense opposition it has generated since 2010 were underscored by Melissa Elander, also of Easton. She presented the SEC with six cartons holding 20,000 petitions – “20, 000 voices” - opposing the project, 5,000 of which are directly addressed to the SEC and urge burial on I-93.

You may still sign the petition to the SEC; go to the website and search for “Northern Pass.” The SEC also continues to accept written public comments, which should be addressed and emailed to Pamela G. Monroe, SEC Administrator at Franconia area business owners who wish to add their letters to the existing group of 75 may send them to Please address these letters to the SEC and they will be forwarded as part of the business group.

Peter Martin rolls in boxes of petitions, signed by 20,000 opponents,
that the Martins and Melissa Elander have collected since 2010.

Susan Schibanoff