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September 27. 2012 12:35AM

Northern Pass 'visual impact' examined

GORHAM — The North Country’s most valued asset — its scenery — would be harmed by the Northern Pass, the Appalachian Mountain Club told the federal Department of Energy in a visual impact report for the 31 towns along the power transmission project’s route.

According to the analysis released Wednesday:

-- A total of 95,000 acres in New Hampshire, including 3,000 acres in the White Mountain National Forest, six scenic outlooks and a trail crossing along the Appalachian Trail in the Kinsman Range would be affected.

-- Franconia Notch State Park, the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson and Whitefield and Pawtuckaway State Park views would be among those compromised by the $1.1 billion transmission project’s 1,100 towers running 180 miles from Pittsburg to Deerfield.

-- There are six crossings of Interstate 93 and eight additional spots where the 90-foot towers will be visible, the report states.

It also follows the highway between Woodstock and Ashland.

-- More than 9,000 acres in Concord in the Turtletown Pond Area would be affected.

Northern Pass is proposed by Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec to bring 1,200 megawatts of hydro-power to New England.

The Department of Energy must approve a presidential permit for the project to cross the international boundary to deliver power to the New England grid.

Mike Skelton, spokesman for the project, noted that AMC has been an opponent of the project from the start and is hardly objective. He said it never asked for data from the visual assessments done by a contractor and only used what is posted on the website northernpass.us.

“Unfortunately, in an attempt to stop a clean energy project that will bring much-needed jobs and low-cost power to New Hampshire, the club has chosen to misrepresent the actual process for evaluating potential view impacts,” Skelton said. “What AMC is calling a ‘visual impact assessment’ is, in fact, a deeply flawed document written by club staff with no apparent qualifications or experience conducting a professional visual impact assessment.”

David Raphael, a principal of Landworks of Middlebury, Vt., and a registered landscape architect and planner, has been hired by Northern Pass to do a visual assessment of the project for the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.

A separate set of data will be collected for the environmental impact statement by SE Group, contracted by the Department of Energy.

Raphael said the sites AMC highlighted in the report will be fully analyzed.

“I understand and respect AMC’s right to an assessment of their own. What I cannot accept is criticism of our work ... it is under way and by no means even close to being completed.”

Kenneth D. Kimball, Ph.D., director of research for the AMC, said the lack of visual data in the Northern Pass permit application to DOE is unfair to the public.

He said the AMC analysis, paid for by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, puts the DOE on notice of the areas that should be analyzed.

“We’re saying to DOE: It’s in your court to make sure it’s done right,” Kimball said.

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-- Here is a link to the visual assessment filed with DOE: www.outdoors.org/pdf/upload/NorthernPassVisualImpactAssessmentFinalReport.pdf

-- Northern Pass explains its process related to visual impact assessments at NPT journal post: www.northernpass.us/project-journal/index.php/2012/09/21/clear-eyed-view/

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Paula Tracy may be reached at ptracy@unionleader.com.

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