Northern Pass to head to Vermont?
LITTLETON - Public Service of New Hampshire is interested in municipally owned land near the town's industrial park, prompting Northern Pass opponents to speculate that the company may be changing direction and planning to bring power lines down the Vermont side of the Connecticut River, crossing into New Hampshire at Littleton.
After crossing at Littleton, the towers designed to carry hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England grid could then continue along existing power line corridors.
The town received a letter from an agent of PSNH in January, reporting that power lines now running along the Ammonoosuc River have to be moved because a change in the river's direction after Hurricane Irene left parts of the utility poles under water. The letter expressed an interest in an 11-plus acre parcel of land designed to serve as a buffer between the town's industrial park and nearby residential areas.
Town officials met Wednesday with a representative of the company hired by PSNH to work on the project, Patty Quinn of Coler and Colantonio, a Bedford-based environmental engineering firm with eight offices around the country, including Bedford.
"We specifically asked about concerns that this is an attempt to get a right of way that would ultimately be able to carry the Northern Pass towers," said Marghie Seymour, chair of the Littleton Select Board. "She said, 'Not as far as I know.'"
Martin Murray, manager of media relations for PSNH and Northeast Utilities, said the concerns are unfounded. "The need for the proposed relocation of a portion of the existing right of way is specific to Ammonoosuc River flooding in the area, including during Tropical Storm Irene, that has caused equipment damage," he said. "It is not related to the Northern Pass, nor any other project."
Littleton Town Meeting voters in 2011 approved a resolution opposing an overland route through the North Country for the Northern Pass, and the Littleton Chamber of Commerce came out against the project last week. Seymour said town residents and elected officials are not entirely convinced by the PSNH denials.
"We looked at the maps that (Quinn) brought in, and it was clear to us that the relocation they were suggesting didn't make any sense in terms of getting their poles out of the river," Seymour said. "We certainly didn't think it was the best option. We came up with several options that we think would have made more sense."
Town officials at the meeting included Seymour, Town Manager Fred Moody and three representatives of the Littleton Industrial Development Corp.
"We suggested the best option is to relocate those poles on existing PSNH rights of way next to the river, and failing that we identified three other possible routes," said Seymour. "The very last option that we would have come up with was the 11-acre strip they said they needed."
Dorothy McPhaul, whose husband owns a business in the industrial park, said residents are especially suspicious since PSNH had previously expressed interest in land on the other side of Route 302 in the same area. "When those landowners demanded verification that the rights of way would never be used for Northern Pass, they never heard from (PSNH) again," she said.
March 14 meeting
The Littleton Select Board meets again March 14, Seymour said, and will take up the matter then if PSNH maintains its interest.
Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said it would be possible for Northern Pass to attempt a Vermont route from Quebec to Littleton. "With Northern Pass' intended route blocked farther north, Littleton residents look warily at the existing (power line) corridor running from Quebec through Vermont and crossing into New Hampshire at Littleton," he said. "They are concerned that PSNH is setting the stage for Northern Pass to cut through the heart of their town."
He said Vermont might prove more hospitable to the idea than New Hampshire.
"(Gov. Peter) Shumlin is all about renewable power," Savage said, "so there has been some speculation that Vermont would not only facilitate something, but be interested in the power."
Shumlin's office was contacted for comment, but did not reply.
Meanwhile, some landowners in Easton, just south of Littleton, are wondering why a contractor working for the Department of Energy is trying to get access to their land for an environmental impact study along existing PSNH rights of way, when a final route for the power lines hasn't even been presented.
"We strongly believe any intervention by the DOE into questions of New Hampshire property rights (if this is in fact what happened) would be highly inappropriate," wrote Jim Dannis of Dalton, in a letter to DOE officials. "The DOE cannot bootstrap or create state property rights where none exist."
Dannis is one of the founding members of Responsible Energy Action, a citizen group opposed to the Northern Pass.