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Hundreds protest Northern Pass

Union Leader Correspondent

September 01. 2012 7:51PM
Demonstrators march down Main Street in Colebrook to protest the Northern Pass project at a rally that drew more than 200 protesters from across the North Country. (KRISTI GAROFALO/Union Leader Correspondent)

COLEBROOK - The color orange was everywhere at Saturday's rally against the Northern Pass project in Colebrook.

More than 200 demonstrators gathered in the park across from Colebrook Town Hall to sing protest songs, listen to political speakers and make their views known.

The $1.1 billion project, being proposed by Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec, would run a high-power transmission line across 180 miles of land from Pittsburg to Deerfield. It would use 140 miles of existing rights of way owned by Public Service of New Hampshire and 40 miles of new rights of way.

The project would affect more than 30 towns and parts of the White Mountain National Forest.

'We all came to oppose the Northern Pass project,' organizer Julie Moran told the crowd. 'They've got a lot of money, but we've got a lot people power.'

The group also recognized landowners who have not sold land to the project. Congressman Charlie Bass thanked those landowners for their financial sacrifice. Bass then told the protesters, 'I'm embarrassed we even have to meet like this.'

'We are not going to move on this until you, the people, say what and when you want it,' he promised.

Executive Councilor Ray Burton said, 'This is small-town America at its best; thank you for showing up and letting people know how you feel.'

Dressed in orange T-shirts and hunting vests, the sign-carrying protesters chanted 'Live Free or Fry' as they made their way down Main Street.

Car horns honked in support, and local business owners came to their doors to watch and offer encouragement as a procession of demonstrators passed by.

Mike Gilchrist of North Stratford delayed a canoe trip to attend the rally. He became involved when the project was set to cross his land.

'They've changed the path and they're not going to do that at this point, but nothing is for certain while this is still going on; that's why we're here,' he said.

For Colebrook residents Roy and Roberta Luce, the protest was their first. Originally from Rhode Island, the couple moved to the Great North Woods for retirement.

The Luces' former home was near high-power transmission lines. 'We could hear the snap, crackle, pop of the lines on humid days,' Roy Luce said.

He said their property values were affected by the lines, and he doesn't want to see that happen here. He also worries about the economic effect of the project.

'Tourism is the last industry in Coos County, and this will hurt,' he said.

'We feel we live in heaven here,' Roberta said. 'Why do you want to give away a piece of heaven?'

As the group gathered after the walk, organizers encouraged protesters to attend rallies in Lancaster and Littleton later in the day.

'We'll be there!' was the response.

In Manchester, about a dozen people joined the protest on South Willow Street, outside the entrance to the Mall of New Hampshire.

Organizer Katie Talbert said the purpose of the New Hampshire rally was to educate people in southern New Hampshire about the organized opposition to the project.

'We want to let people down south see that it is an issue,' Talbert said. 'There hasn't been a lot of discussion about Northern Pass in the southern areas of the state.'

Hands Across New Hampshire members held signs and waved to passing motorists on the busy roadway, earning the occasional honk of approval from the occasional automobile horn..

Northern Pass 'is not going to benefit us whatsoever,' said Susanne Kibler-Hacker, a vice president of the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests.

Spokesman Mike Skelton of PSNH disagreed.

'By delivering this power, 1,200 megawatts, to the regional energy market, New Hampshire will save $20 (million) to $35 million annually,' Skelton said. 'This line, in the new route, will be in a place where folks will be unable to see it; we're committed to doing that and have focused on working with landowners on doing that.'

The Forest Preservation Society is in the midst of a campaign to raise $2.5 million to buy easements to effectively block construction of the power lines on some parcels eyed by the project developer.

Skelton said PSNH recognizes that some people have what he called 'legitimate' questions about the project. 'But there are others who do not want any new development of any kind.'

In addition to the demonstrations in Colebrook and Manchester, Hands Across New Hampshire reported turnouts of 85 people in Easton, 70 in Holderness and 53 in Thornton.

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Union Leader reporter Bill Smith ( contributed to this story. Kristi Garofalo may be reached at

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