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January 01. 2013 11:12PM

Northern Pass route called into question

Northeast Utilities and its partners in developing the Northern Pass hydroelectric project say they have acquired a route for the 1,200-megawatt transmission lines through the North Country.

In an announcement posted Monday as a "project update" on the Northern Pass website, spokesmen for Northeast Utilities wrote: "We are in the process of finalizing this new proposal and will soon be prepared to announce its specific details. This proposal was created in consideration of concerns raised regarding potential view impacts and private property issues."

The new route would eventually have to be identified in detail and submitted to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Commission for approval.

The Web post also states, "In response to the feedback we received, we have spent the past year identifying routing options that would locate the line on land that we own or that has easements we have obtained from willing sellers, and positions the line in a manner that reduces potential view impacts as much as possible."

Jack Savage, a spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, pointed out that the statement does not say Northern Pass owns the land or has obtained the easements at issue.

"It's important to recognize this is not what they promised they were going to have, which is no surprise to us," he said. "We pretty much knew all along that they would not be able to come up with a route by the end of the year, nor do I think that they are ever going to."

In a statement released in August, Northeast Utilities executives told financial analysts to expect a filing with regulators by the end of the year for the massive project that would deliver hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England power grid, via New Hampshire.

Northeast Utilities and its subsidiary, Public Service of New Hampshire, already have rights of way along 140 miles of the 180-mile route, but acquiring property or easements along 40 miles in Coos County has been challenging, especially since the Society for New Hampshire Forests has been buying land or obtaining easements in a series of "blocking actions."

"They are trying to say positive things, without acknowledging that they do not in fact have a route," Savage said.

Both sides in the Northern Pass land acquisition chess game made major moves as the year ended, with the forest society announcing large easements in strategic parts of the North Country, while PSNH was able to close on a major land deal in Clarksville.

"Today marks a major setback for Northern Pass and its owner Northeast Utilities," said Jim Dannis, a Dalton resident and Northern Pass opponent. "This 'non-announcement' calls into question whether Northern Pass has any viable route at all through upper Coos County."

Northeast Utilities officials said in their announcement that they needed time to communicate with people in the affected communities. "We recognize that while we are communicating with local citizens, stakeholders and public officials across New Hampshire, there is still much that can be done. We believe this communication and dialogue is critical to the ultimate success of the new route and the project overall and felt it was necessary to take some additional time to continue these efforts before we publicly announce the new routing proposal."

The power company said it has improved the structure design so that the towers would be kept to approximately 85 feet, instead of 100 to 135 feet, in the national forest and along the new rights of way.

"We are appreciative of the positive support we have received from all across the state, and are very proud to have the full endorsement of the two largest Chambers of Commerce in New Hampshire (Manchester and Nashua)," the statement said. "Our recent jobs meetings in Coos County were an enormous success, and we look forward to resuming those meetings in the new year, along with informational outreach meetings across the state."

Dannis said no amount of communication will address the concerns of opponents, adding, "Northern Pass's promises that the route they may announce in the future will somehow address views, property values and community concerns are just plain ridiculous."

Savage characterized Monday's announcement as yet another in a series of delays.

'If you look back, you'll find that back last May and June, they were saying they would have a route announcement in August, then September, then by the end of the year," he said. "This is yet another delay in a long series of delays and it's because they don't have public support for this. We've attempted to stop them from building this project as proposed, and we are going to continue that work."

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.


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