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January 22. 2013 10:10PM

More dueling land deals along proposed Northern Pass route

Both sides in the chess game over the Northern Pass made moves recently, with 319 acres sold to the transmission line project for $5 million, while the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests acquired additional easements in its ongoing "blocking action."

Jack Savage, spokesman for the society, confirmed that Northern Pass partners, including PSNH, recently acquired the property of the Roger Sylvestre family in Clarksville in a transaction that closed last week.

"Based on what we know from our sources, that's a transaction that's been completed," he said.

PSNH has consistently declined to comment on land deals for the 1,200-megawatt transmission lines that would deliver hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England power grid, via New Hampshire.

"We have been working successfully with a number of property owners to acquire the land or easements necessary to propose a new route in the area north of Groveton where there are no existing transmission lines," PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said. "Out of respect for their privacy, we are not identifying those property owners nor the details of the agreements we have achieved."

The $5 million deal for the Sylvestre property comes just a month after Northern Pass partners acquired a 226-acre parcel in Clarksville for $1.6 million.

"From my perspective, they are desperate to show some progress so the investment of a few million dollars to convince their Canadian partners and shareholders that they are still moving forward is easily justifiable from their standpoint," said Savage.

In the same week Northern Pass acquired the Sylvestre property, the Forest Society signed and recorded options on additional parcels of land in Stewartstown that Savage said will further frustrate the ability of Northern Pass to bridge the gaps in the intended route for 180 miles of high-voltage transmission line through New Hampshire.

Brad and Daryl Thompson signed options that would enable the society to acquire conservation easements on two parcels totaling 364 acres along Bear Rock Road. Northern Pass had acquired parcels to the east and west of the Thompson land in what Savage described as "a failed attempt to find a way around the Forest Society's existing blocking action."

The Forest Society also signed and recorded an option on an additional 153 acres in what is known as the Fred Williams Place, which abuts other lands the Forest Society has under agreement.

"The net result of these additional options is that we will have Northern Pass penned in," said Will Abbott, vice-president of policy and land management for the society.

In their Project Update website, Northern Pass officials announced at the end of 2012 that they have a route for the transmission lines through the North Country, but declined to offer specifics.

As part of its blocking action, the Forest Society last year also obtained easements on a 900-acre property owned by dairy farmer Rod McAllister in Stewartstown.

"We know their intended route because we've tracked their completed transactions," Savage said. "Everything they bought suggests that they are continuing to try to go around the McAllister property. Our announcement last week that we have a conservation easement on the Thompson property has successfully blocked their attempt to go around."

In announcing the easement to the Forest Society, Brad and Daryl Thompson expressed their opposition to the project.

"If we don't take a stand now, more projects like Northern Pass will be proposed, and New Hampshire will be crisscrossed with power lines from north to south and east to west," they said. "If we can play a small part in blocking this project, it will be well worth our efforts. We feel our property is more valuable with the easement - although Northern Pass is willing to pay many times what properties are actually worth, to see their project come to fruition."

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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