CONCORD — A $25,000 grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is being used by the Appalachian Mountain Club to study how the proposed Northern Pass transmission line might affect scenery.
The results of the study will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy for consideration as part of the federal Environmental Impact Statement process, or EIS. The statement must be completed before either the U.S. Department of Energy or the White Mountain National Forest can decide whether the project is in the best interest of the nation.
AMC cartographer Larry Garland has been surveying 140 miles of rights of way from Groveton to Deerfield to envision how metal transmission towers proposed in the $1.1 billion project would affect scenery. Once Northern Pass announces its planned 40-mile route from the Canadian border to Groveton, where there is currently no right of way, a second phase of the study will begin.
“We are looking up and down the proposed 140 miles to identify those scenic resources at risk from visual impacts ... and the visual impacts to those towns,” said Susan Arnold, AMC vice president for conservation.
The transmission line would go through more than 30 towns in New Hampshire to provide 1,200 megawatts of power from Hydro-Quebec in Canada to the New England power market. It is being proposed by Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Public Service Company of New Hampshire, and Hydro-Quebec.
The project would involve erecting steel towers 80 to 135 feet tall that would replace wooden towers averaging about 50 feet tall. The wooden poles would be moved to one side, and the larger structures would be placed in the middle of the right of way.
Northern Pass' application for a Presidential Permit required by the U.S. Department of Energy has been put on hold while the developer looks to purchase land along the 40-mile route through the North Country.
Arnold said AMC’s study is intended to ensure the EIS includes the potential effects on scenery. AMC opposes the power project. The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation has not announced its position.
Northern Pass officials say the project would provide cheaper energy to the region, more power availability to the grid, 1,200 construction jobs, and new revenue for towns through which the line passes.
Kristin Oliveri, spokesman for the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, said the organization authorized the $25,000 grant last year.
About the same time, in March 2011, AMC Director of Research Kenneth Kimball told the Department of Energy the developer’s application was “substantively incomplete” with respect to effects on scenery.
Kimball said there was a need to determine the effects on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, a continuous hiking route from Georgia to Maine.
On Friday, Arnold said the visual intrusion of Northern Pass on that trail, which is within the White Mountain National Forest, is of key concern. Also worrisome would be the effects on the 17 miles of forest and the view of the forest from Route 93 between Lincoln and Thornton, for example, she said. The project would dramatically change the view from the highway, she said.
Alternatives for developing the project, including using a route that would go around or underneath the forest, have not been adequately analyzed, she said.
Northern Pass officials said alternatives to the current proposal could be even more intrusive and environmentally damaging, and it may not be cost-effective to bury the line or go around the forest into various communities.
Garland, the cartographer, is expected to finish his study this summer.
SE Group has been hired to develop the EIS, and this data could be used in conjunction with the EIS report.
Arnold called the EIS "the cornerstone document" to whether Northern Pass is approved.
"The EIS is the document that Tom Wagner will rely on to make his decision," Arnold said, referring to the White Mountain National Forest supervisor, who will be asked to determine whether the permit should be approved. "That's why it's so important."
Michael Skelton, spokesman for PSNH and the Northern Pass project, said Friday: "There is a rigorous state and federal review process in place for transmission projects like Northern Pass, and assessing potential view impacts is a component of that process.
"Throughout this rigorous process, Northern Pass has been working to address concerns raised by landowners, and the project has made outreach specialists available to meet one on one with landowners. These outreach specialist are able to provide
landowners with detailed information and options that may exist to mitigate potential visual impacts.
“We look forward to letting this rigorous state and federal process play out as the project moves forward while continuing to work with landowners individually to address their concerns.”