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October 21. 2012 9:02PM

Northern Pass touts future jobs in North Country while opposition gears up

WHITEFIELD — As Northern Pass holds dinners in the North Country to discuss potential jobs, an effort to block the project in Coos County is switching into high gear.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has raised almost $800,000 for its campaign to block the project’s intended path in the North Country.

“We’re seeing a lot of grassroots support,” said Susanne Kibler-Hacker, vice president for development at the Forest Society. “Most important, the momentum is building as we approach our Oct. 31 deadline. We’re anticipating some larger grants in the final days of the campaign, but we still have a gap to fill.”

The group must raise a total of $2.5 million for conservation easements on 1,800 acres in and around Stewartstown. Earlier this year, the society was successful in a similar move to block the project’s path on land surrounding the Balsams Resort in Dixville.

Meanwhile, invitations have been extended to those in business and trades in Coos County for a dinner tonight and Tuesday night in Whitefield and Millsfield. Developers are to give an overview of jobs that would be available during construction of the high-voltage electric transmission line proposed to bring 1,200 megawatts to New England from Quebec, Northern Pass spokesman Mike Skelton said.

“We are beginning the effort to identify local companies and contractors interested in working on the project,” he said. “Building relationships with these local businesses now will allow the project to more quickly be able to make use of their services once construction begins.”

A rigorous state and federal permitting and review process remain to be completed for the $1.1 billion project. If it is approved, it has three years’ worth of work for 1,200 individuals, according to the company.

The Northern Pass is proposed by Northeast Utilities and Hydro Quebec. It would use 140 miles of existing right-of-way to convey hydro-power from Groveton to Deerfield, but must still find 40 miles of new right-of-way through Coos County.

Opponents of the project say it is wrong to place 1,100 steel lattice towers ranging from 85 to 135 feet through the North Country, destroying scenic views and hurting tourism. Others say it’s a project whose time has come and it will create jobs.

According to the project website, the jobs range from trucking and heavy equipment operation to tree-cutting and landscaping, fencing, linemen and groundsmen, fiber optic splicing and land surveying.

“In terms of the time line, we’ve made great progress on the new route and the finish line is in sight,” Skelton said. “We plan to announce the new route and update our filing with the Department of Energy by the end of the year.”

Skelton did not say when the company would be able to sign binding work contracts, only noting that the project “is on track to begin construction in 2014.”

Forest Society spokesman Jack Savage called the Northern Pass dinners “a public relations move.”

“I will give them credit. It is a good one to make them believe jobs are around the corner,” he said.

For more information visit www.forestsociety.org/np and www.northernpass.us

ptracy@unionleader.com


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