STEWARTSTOWN — The proposed Northern Pass power line project has picked up what opponents believe may be key land for its route from Canada to the New England power grid.
The project developer purchased two parcels on Stewartstown's Sugar Hill totaling 308 acres for $2,125,000.
Bob Baker of Columbia, a lawyer and a Northern Pass opponent, said he has been watching land transactions recorded by Northern Pass under its “Renewable Properties” name. So far, he said, $12,047,466 has been spent in Coos County and an additional $2.35 million has been spent for a parcel in Franklin.
He said the May 31 purchase of the two parcels from Kevin Edwards of Greensboro, N.C., represents a victory of sorts for the project and signals to those landowners who haven't sold parcels yet that they can get “more than their wildest dreams” for their North Country land.
“They've picked up a critical piece with the Edwards sale. It's the only way they can get from Stewartstown to Dixville without crossing State Park and conservation land,” Baker said on Friday. “But it doesn't give them a contiguous route yet from Canada to Dixville, as far as I know.”
The Northern Pass project would transmit hydroelectric power over a line from Hydro-Quebec in Canada to the New England utility market. It would use about 140 miles of existing right-of-way owned by Public Service Company of New Hampshire from Groveton to Deerfield, but must still find a 40-mile route to the north to connect with Canada.
Martin Murray, PSNH's senior corporate news representative, would not talk specifically about any land transaction, but said progress has been made establishing the 40-mile path through the North Country.
“We're working hard to secure land or easements in order to propose a new route for the project north of the Groveton area. Our objective is to identify a route that is of least impact, in terms of the environment and the view shed,” he said Friday.
“We still have some work to do and don't have a specific timetable for the proposal of a new route, but we're very optimistic, based on our progress so far. While I won't comment on any specific purchases, I can say that, for the most part, land owners have been willing to work with us, and in those cases where they have not, we have been able to work around them. This recent purchase is an example of that.”
Baker said he thinks there are sales agreements yet to be made public and believes that situation benefits Northern Pass because potential land sellers “don't know how much they (project officials) are willing to now pay.”
He also noted that those who sold earlier “are kicking themselves” that they didn't wait it out for the sort of money now on the table. Landowners still holding out with similar-sized parcels to Edwards' might want to charge $4 million, he said.
As for neighbors of those who have sold, Baker contends, they are angered because the sale devalues their land. He said one man who lives next door to a property that was recently purchased called Northern Pass officials to ask whether they were interested in his land. They said no.
“He is now desperate to get out,” Baker said.
Edwards owned the two woodland parcels on Sugar Hill and paid about $1,500 a year in taxes, according to town records.
Northern Pass is a joint effort by Northeast Utilities, the parent company of PSNH, and Hydro-Quebec, which is still seeking federal approval before it seeks state authorization. It withdrew its application to the U.S. Department of Energy for a Presidential Permit in order to develop a North Country route that was not as controversial as the one originally proposed.
The company says the project will reduce overall electric costs in the region, add income to the more than 30 communities where the high-voltage line would go and create construction jobs.
Opponents say the towers that would carry the power line, which would be between 80 and 130 feet tall, would destroy property values and mar the landscape. They also contend the the power is not needed in New Hampshire.
Baker said he thinks the price of the project will keep going up now that potential land sellers know how much other parcels have sold for and that some people who were holding out are beginning to reconsider.
Stewartstown Selectman Allen Coats said the town is pretty upset about the project, and town meeting voters have voted to oppose any new high-voltage lines in the town.
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Paula Tracy may be reached at email@example.com.