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February 19. 2013 9:15PM

Littleton chamber says 'No' to Northern Pass

Now that the chambers of commerce from the state's two biggest cities have weighed in on the Northern Pass, some North Country chambers are taking their stand on the controversial proposal by Northeast Utilities and its partners to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to New England, via New Hampshire.

The Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce, representing communities north of the White Mountain National Forest, issued a statement on Feb. 14 in opposition to the project, while the North Country Chamber of Commerce, based in Colebrook, is surveying its members.

"We understand that some Chambers of Commerce in regions of the state not suffering any direct negative impact have chosen to publicly support the project, and thus we feel the need to offer a contrarian view," wrote Chad Stearns, executive director of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce, in a statement to the media Monday. "We firmly believe that the Economic Impact Studies performed have over-estimated the project's short- and long-term benefits, and underestimated the negative effects on the North Country economy."

Stearns was alluding to the Nashua and Manchester chambers, both of which have come out strong for the proposal to construct 190 miles of high-voltage transmission lines from the Quebec border to an existing substation in Deerfield.

In his statement on behalf of the Littleton chamber, Stearns said the project will hurt tourism and lower property values along the route, while putting local power producers at a disadvantage with no guarantees of lower electric costs to New Hampshire as a whole or the North Country in particular.

"The Littleton Chamber of Commerce wishes to go on the record stating that the vast majority of our members cannot support the Northern Pass Transmission Project as currently proposed," he wrote.

Justin Eldred, executive director of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, said his board members mostly oppose the project, but are awaiting the results of a membership survey before taking a formal position.

"This has come up for discussion at the last several meetings, and we're at the point where a majority of our board is opposed to the Northern Pass," he said. "But since we work for our members, we want to see how they feel before we officially take a stand."

The North Country chamber is most directly affected by the project, with Colebrook, Pittsburg and Vermont towns from Canaan to Strafford among its members.

The Manchester and Nashua chambers endorsed the project last year. Nashua Chamber President and CEO Christopher Williams wrote a similar piece, explaining why his chamber is endorsing the project, and acknowledging tension between north and south on the issue: "This decision was not made lightly. We are very sensitive to our friends who live and work in northern New Hampshire, many of whom have vocally shared their concerns that the Northern Pass project will have negative impacts on them that are not felt by us in southern N.H. We recognize that, in their eyes, it's easier for us to support the project since it isn't happening in our own back yard."

The executive director for the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce said the topic is on the agenda for that board on Friday. Chambers in Hanover, Keene, Concord and the Lakes Region responded that they have taken no position on the project.

The issue seems to have helped boost membership rolls, at least in Colebrook.

"PSNH was very quick to join the chamber last year, where they weren't a member prior," said Eldred. "I don't know if that has anything to do with the Northern Pass, or not."

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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