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February 13. 2013 11:14PM

North Country land buys called 'nails in Northern Pass coffin'

CONCORD - The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has closed on conservation easements for three key parcels of North Country land, in what the organization called "three more nails in the Northern Pass coffin."

The closings on Wednesday for easements on more than 1,000 acres in Stewartstown were anticipated, since the forest society had previously announced purchase and sales agreements.

The society has been raising money since last summer in a "Trees Not Towers" campaign designed to block the path of the high-voltage transmission lines intended to deliver hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England power grid, via New Hampshire.

The largest easement acquired on Wednesday was for 1,000 acres owned by dairy farmer Rod McAllaster, whose family has farmed the land for generations. McAllaster had previously told reporters that Northern Pass had offered him $4 million for the land near the Quebec border. According to tax stamps on record at the Coos County Registry of Deeds, the conservation easement was obtained by the forest society for $825,000.

"We announced in August that we intended to do this, and we started raising money," said Jack Savage, forest society spokesman. "In October we announced that we were close, and now it's done. So to whatever extent Northern Pass had any hope that we would fail to close these transactions, thus opening the door for them to again approach Mr. McAllaster, that's off the table."

On the same day, the forest society closed on conservation easements for 86 acres spanning two parcels of land owned by Lynne Placey of Stewartstown for $330,000. "That's an indication of how strategically placed her land is," said Savage. He explained that the easements were based on professional appraisals last summer that took into account what Northern Pass has paid for easements and acquisitions.

Northern Pass spokesman Mike Skelton said the Forest Society's actions were expected, and have not blocked the project.

"They've had no effect on our efforts to identify and propose a new route and that fact will be made clear when we release the details of our new proposal in the future," he said. "Northern Pass is excited to share the details of our new proposal soon, and we look forward to the comprehensive state and federal review process. If the project earns approval from those permitting bodies, Northern Pass will bring clean, low-cost power, hundreds of local jobs, and millions in new tax revenue to New Hampshire."

The company had been expected to announce a new route by the end of the year, and said it had one on Dec. 31, but since then has provided no details.

Savage said the land purchases and easements obtained by the forest society's so-called "blocking actions" have created an extremely steep hill for Northern Pass developers to climb.

"Is there still a way to potentially do it?" he said. "Perhaps, but they would need to abandon their intended route and the tens of millions of dollars they've already spent, to pursue some other overland way to do it, crossing hundreds of new property owners."

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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