Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Balsams’ Otten Asks Selectmen For Neutrality On Northern Pass

Colebrook: Balsams’ Otten Asks Selectmen For Neutrality On Northern Pass

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
April 5, 2016

Three weeks after testifying at a hearing in support of Northern Pass, Balsams developer Les Otten weighed in on the project again when he asked Colebrook selectmen last week to jettison a paragraph encouraging burial of the proposed power line in a letter they sent to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee.

During their March 28 meeting, selectmen voted 3-0 to send the letter, drafted by Selectman Susan Collins, to NHSEC stating, “The Colebrook selectboard recognizes the divisiveness that the Northern Pass project has created in our community and surrounding region. The town of Colebrook is not and has not been a party to the negative campaigns opposed to the transmission project.”

The selectmen then wrote, “The town of Colebrook does support the $200 million Forward New Hampshire fund and its stated goals of community betterment, clean energy innovation, economic development and tourism. If there was ever a need for accomplishing all four goals in northern Coos County and Colebrook, it is now.”

 On March 8, at joint NHSEC-U.S. Department of Energy hearing on Northern Pass in Colebrook, Otten said the $143 million first-phase Balsams redevelopment will benefit from $2 million from Northern Pass with “the potential for a more substantial investment by the fund as Northern Pass progresses.”

In their letter, the Colebrook selectmen said the N.H. Forward fund has made a “significant financial commitment to The Balsams redevelopment” and the closure several years ago of the resort’s golf course in Colebrook “has negatively impacted Colebrook’s tax base.”

After selectmen last week voted to send the letter and its ending paragraph recommending burial to the SEC, Balsams developer Ed Brisson, who was at the March 28 meeting, contacted Otten, who drove to the meeting to encourage the board to remove it.

According to the draft meeting minutes, Otten expressed concerns that the letter’s words about burying the Northern Pass line sound like the selectmen have picked a side instead of staying neutral and letting the NHSEC decide.

The board voted unanimously to remove the paragraph.

“We intended to be neutral and felt it was, but other folks felt it wasn’t, and by taking out that particular paragraph we became more neutral,” Board of Selectman Chairman Greg Placy told the White Mountain Record Monday.

Placy said selectmen would not be averse to the town receiving money from the Forward N.H. fund, which he said could help the town with projects, among them Main Street reconstruction.

The board believes it should be neutral, with one reason being the line would not pass through Colebrook, said Placy.

Last week, Otten also met with executive board members of the Colebrook-based North Country Chamber of Commerce (NCCC), which is opposed to the Northern Pass towers, to ask them for the same neutrality. The NCCC is a NHSEC-granted intervenor in Northern Pass.

On Monday, Otten told the White Mountain Record he wanted to inform the Colebrook selectmen that the current Northern Pass plan before the NHSEC includes above-ground line and some buried line, 5,000 acres of land donation, and the $200 million Forward N.H. fund.

“There are a lot of things in the plan and if you said you were against it or you favored burial of the entire line you were against the plan,” said Otten. “I don’t think that has been entirely clear to everyone … I thought it was important for me, as a resident of Dixville and an investor so far, to inform the selectboard that for me I would rather see their position as neutral.”

On the chamber of commerce, Otten said, “When you take a business group that encompasses everyone from retired investment bankers to one-man businesses and that entity represents the community at large, I think it is appropriate for that institution to not take either side in that debate. I simply asked the executive board if I could present my point of view, and that is to take a neutral position, not for or against it, at the SEC.”

NCCC President Wayne Frizzell did not return a call Monday asking if the chamber will consider Otten’s request to be a neutral party in the chamber’s intervenor status with the NHSEC.

Money from the $200 million Forward N.H. fund would be disbursed to municipalities, businesses and organizations after an approval of the project.

Of the $2 million from Northern Pass for the Balsams redevelopment, Otten on Monday said, “What we have, we will owe. We have to pay it back. It’s a business negotiation between us and them and there are a lot of pieces to it.”

Opponents of the proposed towers, concerned about negative impacts to property values, scenic views and tourism, have said Northern Pass is trying to buy support for an unpopular project and argue Eversource Energy, parent company of Northern Pass, and partner Hydro-Quebec are unwilling to spend an additional $1 billion out of the billions of dollars they would make in profit to fully bury the line.

To expand the Balsams ski area, Otten has about 3,300 acres on the adjacent Bayroot property managed by Wagner Forest Management under option for purchase.

Wagner has entered into a lease agreement with Eversource to allow some 24 miles of Northern Pass towers on the Bayroot property.

Otten said his support of Northern Pass is not related to Eversource’s agreement with Wagner Forest Management and said Dixville Capital LLC, the Balsams’ redevelopment company, has had the Bayroot acres under option for some time.