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Not all in Franklin favor Northern Pass project

Union Leader Correspondent

January 20. 2013 10:12PM

FRANKLIN - As the city hires a lobbyist to follow legislation regarding Northern Pass, which promises a $4.2 million annual boost to the city's tax base, local opponents of the project say the city is wasting taxpayers' money.

City officials have been outspoken advocates of the $1.2 billion project that would deliver electricity from Hydro-Quebec through New Hampshire. A Northern Pass converter station is planned for the city.

Mayor Ken Merrifield said the project is "very special" to the city's future, saying it will add jobs and needed funds for infrastructure improvements. Last week, the city announced plans to spend $1,000 in the coming legislation session to monitor Northern Pass bills.

That isn't sitting well with residents who oppose the plan.

"By appearance, the mayor is in the minority, at least along the route where the economic impact will be felt, primarily West Franklin," said resident Brian Hupper, who cited "gigantic" towers to be built as part of the project.

"What will happen is a devaluing of the homes along the route, with a corresponding decrease in taxes for the city," he said.

Opponent Ruth Niven, who works at the city library, said the city is being selfish.

"Franklin is part of New Hampshire. If the Northern Pass Project isn't good for New Hampshire, it isn't good for Franklin," she said.

"Northeast Utilities, NSTAR and Hydro Quebec want to use Franklin," she said. "A project that is being promoted as providing only benefits is instead a project that is all about profit."

Many opponents question the promised potential for new jobs in the city and the area.

"The hoped-for jobs will probably not materialize, unless Franklin has unemployed high voltage technicians sitting around waiting for Northern Pass to happen," Hupper said. "There will be some temporary jobs, such as tree-cutting and clearing, some for tower construction but again, those will go to previously qualified techs."

Hupper also doubts the long-term tax benefits.

"The tax increase that the city of Franklin is looking for may occur for the first few years, then the usual decrease that happens as the sub station gets devalued will occur," he said.

PSNH/Northeast Utilities spokesman Michael Skelton said the Northern Pass representatives have been meeting regularly with communities and businesses in the North Country about the job opportunities the project will create.

"On Wednesday night we held a meeting (in Franklin) with local businesses and contractors to discuss the jobs Northern Pass will create and the job opportunities that will be available for local businesses. More than 40 people attended and the response overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic," Skelton said.

Based on an economic impact study the project commissioned, the opportunities for Franklin and Merrimack County will be significant, he said. Of the 1,200 jobs expected to be generated statewide on the project, an estimated 300 to 500 will go to Franklin and the Merrimack County's central region.

"The total Northern Pass investment in Franklin is estimated at over $350 million. The total property taxes the project will generate statewide are estimated at $25 to $30 million. Of that, $4 to $5 million will help taxpayers in Franklin by decreasing local property taxes and providing a new, local source of revenue. An additional $1 million of revenue will go toward helping county taxpayers in Merrimack County," Skelton said.

Merrifield said the majority of city residents are in favor of Northern Pass. The Franklin station project will bring 500 construction workers a day through the city for more than three years, he said, with a jobs bonus for the city in a variety of fields.

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