PILOT agreement allowed to stand after Hassan signs bill
MILLSFIELD — The North Country — and specifically the small number of property owners in Millsfield and Dixville — got some good news recently when Gov. Maggie Hassan signed House Bill 1590 into law.
Inked by the governor on July 2, according to her spokesman William Hinkle, HB1590 lets stand the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement between the Coos County Commission and Granite Reliable Power, a subsidiary of Brookfield Power that owns and operates a windfarm in the unincorporated areas of Millsfield and Dixville.
Based on an estimate provided by an appraiser with the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration, the county commission in 2008 entered into a 10-year PILOT agreement with GRP that called for the utility company to pay the county $495,000 annually.
The PILOT was calculated on a valuation of the windfarm at $113 million, but when the facility began generating electricity in 2012, the DRA valued it at $228 million, prompting an appeal that ultimately landed in the state Supreme Court.
The appeal considered that the few property owners in Dixville (23 residents) and Millsfield (10) — according to the 2010 Census — had previously paid little or no property taxes to the county because what taxes had been due were covered annually through a combination of timber tax revenues and the GRP Pilot.
Another motivating factor behind HB1590 was the fear that should the DRA evaluation stand, it could be a “deal breaker” for the future redevelopment of The Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch.
Last month, the state Supreme Court handed down a decision that said the Coos County Commission should not have relied upon the DRA appraiser’s figure in determining the PILOT, but that it should have been able to see the DRA’s appraisal of the GRP windfarm.
Attorney Jonathan Frizzell, whose firm represented the county before the high court, was expected to meet with representatives of the Board of Land and Tax Appeals and the Department of Revenue Administration to find a resolution to the equalized value set by the DRA for Dixville and Millsfield for the 2012 and 2013 tax years.
State Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, in a prepared statement, hailed Hassan’s signing of HB1590.
“This has been a long process, but finally the tax base in Millsfield and Dixville has been stabilized and with it a significant obstacle to the development of the former Balsams Resort has been lifted.”
Woodburn thanked “all those that worked so hard to pass this legislation especially the law’s sponsor Rep. Robert Theberge,” a Democrat from Berlin.
The redevelopment of The Balsams continues to be a work in progress.
The historic resort — which includes a hotel, golf course and The Wilderness Ski Area — closed in 2011 and was purchased a year later by Dan Dagesse and Dan Hebert, businessmen from nearby Colebrook who worked at the Balsams in their youth.
After attempting to do the project themselves, the men this past February announced that Les Otten, the former ski-industry executive who greatly expanded the Sunday River resort in Maine when he operated it and who later founded the American Skiing Company, would head up the redevelopment effort.
HB1590 is the first confirmed piece of good news for the transformation of The Balsams that Otten presented at the May 22 annual meeting of the North Country Chamber of Commerce in West Stewartstown.
Otten, according to a spokesman, is in discussions with Brookfield Power about reducing the setbacks between the wind turbines and The Wilderness ski area, which Otten would like to quadruple in size.
Otten has identified the setbacks as one of the five “hurdles” that the Balsams had to overcome on the way to what he called its “spectacular rebirth.”