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Forest Society makes Balsams right-of-way deal final

Union Leader Correspondent

January 18. 2012 10:51PM

PITTSBURG - The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has completed its transaction with the Tillotson Corp. to conserve some 5,800 acres of land surrounding the historic Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch.

The Forest Society Tuesday acquired conservation restrictions that, according to its officials, will 'forever' protect the working forest, habitat, scenic views and 30 miles of recreational trails that the public and The Balsams guests have enjoyed for decades.

'We have long sought to protect this special place in New Hampshire,' Jane Difley, the society's president, said in a news release issued Wednesday.

'We are grateful to the more than 1,500 donors who stepped forward to collectively contribute the $850,000 we needed to make this happen. We are equally pleased that the board of the Tillotson Corporation gave us the opportunity to conserve this land,' she said.

As part of the transaction, the forest society acquired a deeded transmission line right-of-way that was seen as potentially part of the controversial Northern Pass proposal. By acquiring both the conservation restrictions and the power line right-of-way, the forest society - according to Difley - effectively removed the threat that Northern Pass would be able to cross the conserved acreage without eminent domain.

'While we began this project because of the extraordinary natural attributes of the land, in the end, I think this campaign also became a referendum on Northern Pass,' Difley said. 'We received donations from far and wide, and in many cases those donors told us that they were driven by a desire to stop the Northern Pass proposal.'

The rights to the transmission line right-of-way had also been sought by Northern Pass Transmission LLC, which wanted to cross The Balsams land with a high-voltage line involving towers up to 135 feet high.

The $1.1 billion project would provide power from Hydro Quebec to the New England electric grid over 180 miles of power lines from the Canadian border at Pittsburg to Deerfield.

Tillotson sold the hotel in December to two Colebrook businessmen and chose to work with the forest society, rather than sell a right-of-way to Northern Pass, which had offered $3 million for it. The trustees and forest society officials signed a purchase-and-sales agreement on Dec. 6.

Northern Pass challenged the deal, but the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office responded that the trustees were acting within their rights.

Martin Murray, PSNH spokesman, said late Wednesday afternoon: 'We support protection and conservation of the land.'

He pointed out that transmission lines for wind power would still be allowed on a portion of The Balsams property.

A statement on the PSNH website noted: 'While Northern Pass had an interest in this specific utility right of way, we are continuing to successfully work with landowners as we consider other routing alternatives. We look forward to soon announcing a new proposed route that has the support of underlying land owners.'

Meanwhile, Difley said in the release that the forest society has begun working in cooperation with The Balsams owners, Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse.

'We have already developed a strong working relationship with the hotel's new owners, who own the now-protected land. Like everyone else, we want to see them succeed in renovating and re-opening the hotel.'

The more than 1,500 donations for the transaction ranged from $1 to $150,000, according to forest society officials, who said donations came from all over New Hampshire and a total of 22 states, including Hawaii, Arizona, California, and also from the Canadian province of Quebec.

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