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October 08. 2012 10:21PM

Northern Pass works to connect the dots in NH land acquisition

BOSTON — The parent company of Northern Pass said it has most of the land it requires for a right of way from Pittsburg to Groveton, but acknowledges it needs a special permit through 10 miles of the White Mountains National Forest.

Northeast Utilities told investment analysts at a gathering Friday in Boston that the project team expects to amend its U.S. Department of Energy presidential permit application by the end of the year with the full route.

They said the project has acquired, or has under agreement “99 percent” of the land needed in Coos County.

Officials have also acknowledged the project will require a special use permit through the White Mountains from Easton to Thornton from the Forest Service. This would be in the lower 140 miles of the route, where subsidiary Public Service of New Hampshire has a right of way.

Meanwhile, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is pursuing a campaign to block the completion of the route. The society has until Oct. 31 to raise $2.5 million to protect tracts it says will preclude Northern Pass from connecting land it has acquired in Stewartstown and Columbia.

“What they are saying is they don't even have enough to even announce a route,” Jack Savage, spokesman for the Forest Society, said Monday. “And if we are successful in our blocking action, they'll need to start over.”

The Northern Pass is being proposed by Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec to bring 1,200 megawatts of hydro power to the New England grid. It is opposed primarily by conservation groups and residents along the 31-community route because of its 85-foot steel transmission towers.

Opponents say the towers would devalue property and hurt tourism. Proponents say the project would bring renewable energy at a lower cost to the region.

As of last week, the conservation organization said it had over $400,000 pledged for the $2.5 million campaign, including an anonymous gift of $5,000 in Northeast Utilities stock, which will be sold.

The society hopes to put in protective easements on 1,895 acres in five different parcels.

Last winter, it acquired land around the Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch to block a potential Northern Pass route, raising $900,000 in a matter of weeks.

While Northern Pass has refused to identify the northern route, documents in the Coos Country Registry of Deeds show it has spent more than $15 million to acquire at least 40 parcels, at times paying 20 times the assessed value for the land, according to Will Abbott of the Forest Society.

The current campaign to raise funds to block the transmission route includes 525 acres in Stewartstown owned by Green Acre Woodlands; 970 acres of the McAllaster Farm on Mudget Mountain in Stewartstown; about 100 acres in Stewartstown owned by Lynne Placey; and 300 acres in Columbia near the Nash Stream Forest, owned by the Lewis Family.

Utility officials claim that the Forest Society's campaign to stop the project has failed.

ptracy@unionleader.com


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