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AMC videos project route's visual impact

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 26. 2013 9:48PM
Allen and Linda Holmes stand in front of their home, which they painted bright orange to protest the controversial Northern Pass project. (Marie Hughes/Colebrook Chronicle)

The Appalachian Mountain Club, which opposes the proposed Northern Pass electric transmission line, has released a video it describes as a "bird's eye view" that shows the visual impact along the proposed 187-mile route.

The video, which includes narration and music, uses a color chart to illustrate the number of towers visible within a half-mile of the corridor, the commercial and residential land it passes through and the trails, lakes and forested areas it traverses.

Kenneth Kimball, AMC's director of research, said information in the latest Northern Pass permit application was used to plot the location and height of 1,500 new and 700 relocated transmission towers. The project would run hydroelectric power from Quebec through New Hampshire.

Northern Pass spokeman Mike Skelton said the video's aerial view "really distorts the truth .. It distorts the potential impact."

The release of the video is the latest salvo in a long battle that has pitted the power company against local landowners and environmental groups. The companies say the project will bring cheaper power, increased property tax bases and jobs to the New England region, while opponents say the towers will scar scenic views and destroy property values.

Late last week, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told New Hamsphire Public Radio that she believed the company should bury the entire 180-mile length of the transmission lines.

"I know there have been other projects around the country that have been buried and if they could bury the lines here that would be the most appropriate thing to do," she told NHPR following a town hall meeting she held in Whitefield.

Northern Pass officials have said burying the lines, beyond an 8-mile stretch proposed to be buried in Coos County, is too expensive.

Skelton said Northern Pass is working with communities to bring a variety of benefits, including tax revenues and, in Groveton, a 195-foot tower on Morse Hill, off Route 3, that will expand Internet coverage.

But the tower is one item Allen Holmes of Groveton, who said he has no television or computer, would rather do without to keep the scenery he enjoys outside his home, which he recently painted bright orange to match the Northern Pass opposition movement's color scheme. He said he is considering outlining large, black lettering reading "Stop Northern Pass" in white to make it stand out better.

Holmes said the proposed line would abut their property. "This is my stand," he said. "If you don't stand up for what you believe in, where are we going?"

Holmes said three real estate agents have informed him that "I couldn't get half what the property's worth just because of the threat of Northern Pass."

Skelton said the video unfairly portrays visual impact by altering how people would see the lines.

"Topography and tree heights are huge factors," he said.

Kimball said the video shows the towers at the exact height, location and type shown in the Northern Pass application and accounts for topography.

"We geo-referenced them," he said, using latitude and longitude. He said the goal was to determine, "If I'm in my backyard, or on a trail, what would I see?"

Skelton said the Energy Department and Northern Pass will each have independent visual impact assessments done.

He said Northern Pass will have its done by LandWorks, a Middlebury, Vt., firm.

Visual simulations of various sites have already been done by LandWorks and are available by going to then clicking on "in my town" and click on "visual simulations," Skelton said.

But Kimball said visual impact depends on where you are standing when you take the photo.

"A photo simulation is done at one point, looking in one direction," he said.

Kimball said AMC is working on a new project to show what a visual footprint is likely to be on a wider scale. The flyover video addressed views from a half-mile out from the line.

The AMC argues the project would also visually impact such public resources as Bear Brook State Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the White Mountain National Forest.

The AMC also challenges the implied value of the project for future generations.

"What Northern Pass will be leaving for future generations are mountains and valleys dominated by massive steel towers and miles and miles of power lines that will change New Hampshire's iconic scenery into an industrial landscape," Kimball said.

Skelton argues the AMC is using the video and its opposition to Northern Pass as a fundraising opportunity and that Northern Pass has plenty of supporters.

He said a series of open houses held recently helped convert some residents from opponents to supporters when they found out the benefits of the power line and that their fears were unfounded.

"There are quite a few people who are supportive," Skelton said.

Skelton said he's concerned the new AMC video about the proposed Northern Pass route from Deerfield to the Canadian border "only fuels fears and provides more false impressions."

Kimball says the video is accurate and urged people to comment on the Northern Pass project before the Nov. 5 deadline at;

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