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Court rules against Forest Society in Northern Pass lawsuit

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 31. 2016 2:16PM

LANCASTER -- A Coos County Superior Court judge has ruled against the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests in its efforts to block construction of the Northern Pass hydroelectric project.

Judge Lawrence A. MacLeod on May 26 granted summary judgment in favor of Northern Pass in a lawsuit aimed at establishing the society’s property rights along the proposed route.

The forest society had filed suit in Coos County over plans by Northern Pass partners to bury portions of the high-power transmission lines beneath Route 3 in Clarksville.

The society owns the land, known as the Washburn Family Forest, along the section of Route 3 at issue. While acknowledging that it had granted the state Department of Transportation an easement to build and maintain the highway through the land, the society maintained that easement was not transferable to Northern Pass without society permission.

Northern Pass partners, led by Eversource, argued that the Department of Transportation has the “sole power” to authorize transmission lines along, under or over a state highway.

In his ruling, MacLeod cited state law that grants utilities the authority to erect power lines along any public highway, with DOT permission.

The ruling can be viewed below:

“The (legislature) gave the DOT exclusive jurisdiction over the disposition of permits and license for utility projects in public highways,” he wrote. “The legislature further provided that the DOT shall grant a requested permit or license if the public good requires.

“Thus the DOT, not this court, must decide in the first instance whether a proposed project meets the public good requirement.”

In a statement posted on the Forest Society Northern Pass blog, a spokesperson said the preservation group is disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.

“The decision effectively kicks the can down the road relative to the ultimate resolution of important property rights issues involving Northern Pass, the DOT, and private landowners. We note that the state Constitution expressly prohibits the use of the state’s power of eminent domain for elective transmission projects, and would have preferred not to wait for the DOT to potentially issue a license before resolving that constitutional conflict. We anticipate pursuing this case, and this issue, further.”

Eversource President of Operations in New Hampshire said the company welcomes the ruling.

“We are pleased the Court recognized long-standing New Hampshire law that allows for the use of public roadways for projects like Northern Pass,” said Bill Quinlan. “We look forward to continuing the permitting process and moving one step closer to delivering the clean energy and economic benefits to New Hampshire and the region.”





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