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September 16. 2012 9:59PM

Northern Pass foes fight to pay for North Country land

CONCORD — The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has raised $250,000 of the $2.5 million it needs by the end of October to buy five land parcels, a purchase it says would thwart the Coos County route of the Northern Pass.

Jack Savage, Forest Society spokesman, said 200 donors have come forward so far. A $50,000 donation just arrived from the Thomas W. Haas Foundation, which is administered by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

The developers of Northern Pass say the purchases will not shut them down, and that they continue to move forward with the $1.1 billion project, which is being proposed by Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec.

The conservation organization believes the purchase and sales agreements with four North Country landowners could be considered a “blocking action” to the construction of a 180-mile transmission line.

Last winter, the society raised $900,000 in five weeks and acquired 5,800 acres of the Balsams resort property in Dixville Notch to block a route for the project.

The Northern Pass would use 140 miles of existing right of way owned by Public Service of New Hampshire from Groveton to Deerfield. The remaining 40 miles from Groveton to Pittsburg has to be acquired because there is no existing right of way.

Jane Difley, president and forester, in announcing the Trees Not Towers campaign, said Hydro-Quebec seeks to export four times the power that would be transmitted by Northern Pass alone.

“New Hampshire needs to protect itself from an industrialized corridor that could support multiple transmission lines in the future, regardless of the outcome of the immediate Northern Pass proposal,” she said.

A total of 1,895 acres in five separate tracts are on the table:

-- 525 acres of North Hill in Stewartstown owned by Green Acre Woodlands;

-- The 970-acre McAllaster Farm on Mudget Mountain in Stewartstown;

-- Two small parcels owned by Lynne Placey, totaling roughly 100 acres in Stewartstown;

-- 300 acres in Columbia owned by the Lewis family, which links the southern boundary of the Balsams tract and the boundary of the Nash Stream State Forest.

The organization and other opponents are concerned the 1,100 proposed towers, from 80 to 135 feet high, would destroy the landscape, hurt tourism and reduce property values.

Developers of the project and their supporters contend it would be good for the state, reduce utility costs and add construction jobs.

The legislature took eminent domain off the table for the project last winter, forcing the developers to work with willing landowners. So far it is estimated the project has spent $15 million acquiring 40 North Country parcels, sometimes paying more than 20 times the assessed value, according to Will Abbott, vice president for policy of the Forest Society.

But some have refused to sell.

Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass, said that the project continues to make progress. He called the Northern Pass a “convenient fund-raising tool” for the conservation group.

“They have tried and failed to stop the project,” he said.

ptracy@unionleader.com


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