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Proposed Northern Pass/ Ride the Wilds cash-and-land deal getting panned

Union Leader Correspondent

July 06. 2015 7:35PM
Off Highway Recreational Vehicles operating last year on the Ride the Wilds trail network in the North Country. The parent organization of RTW may soon get and consider a formal offer from Eversource on behalf of the Northern Pass energy transmission project that would give RTW up to $5.5 million in cash and 1,100 acres of land in Colebrook and Stewartstown. (John Koziol)

COLEBROOK — A proposed deal that would see the company behind the Northern Pass energy transmission project give land and money to the Ride the Wilds trail network is being met with some support but also with criticism, skepticism and fear.

According to its Facebook page, Ride the Wilds, a non-profit organization whose member clubs maintain 1,000 miles of increasingly connected Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle trails, could immediately receive up to $500,000 from energy company Eversource as well as 1,100 acres of land and several residential buildings in the Diamond Pond area in both Stewartstown and Colebrook cumulatively valued at $1.5 million.

Once and if Northern Pass became a reality, Eversource would also give Ride the Wilds (RTW) up to $500,000 annually for 10 years along with a right-of-way on which a new trail would be built from Hall’s Stream Road in Pittsburg to the area of Heath Road and Bear Rock Road in Stewartstown.

Harry Brown, who is president of the North Country OHRV Coalition, in a July 1 posting on the RTW Facebook page, confirmed that discussions were taking place with Eversource and also confirmed the above terms.

But Brown, who was unavailable Monday, was adamant that Eversource has yet to make a formal offer and when it does, the proposal would likely be subject to an initial review by the coalition’s board of directors. He said the next step would be to gather the positions of the individual clubs and then to reconvene the board of directors’ meeting, during which a vote would be held privately on the memorandum of understanding.

While stressing that the board of directors has not taken any position on the memorandum of understanding or on the Northern Pass itself, Brown wrote that if Eversource did make a real offer, “it certainly could be an incredible boost for Ride the Wilds …”

He added that the pact with Eversource would also be “a game changer” for the “many businesses and jobs supported by this growing industry.” Brown said he personally believed that RTW could “easily coexist with the transmission line.”

Eversource spokesman Martin Murray in a July 2 email told the New Hampshire Union Leader that “We’re not ready to discuss the specifics of any new potential partnerships at this time, as our focus is on the impending release of (the Department of Energy’s draft Environmental Impact Statement), the public meetings that will follow, and eventually our application with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.”

Murray noted, however, that “the Northern Pass project has a history of reaching out to various local stakeholders to insure that the project can deliver unique benefits for New Hampshire, such as economic development and job growth. Our partnership with the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, with the Job Creation Fund in the North Country, and the recent cell initiative with the Coös Economic Development Corporation are prime examples of our commitment to the state.”

Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which opposes the Northern Pass and wants it buried, not run on overhead lines, on Monday said the Eversource offer to RTW is “a reflection of the fact that the project itself has little or nothing to offer New Hampshire.”

The majority of people who posted responses to Brown’s press release on the RTW Facebook page agreed with Savage.

One posting accused RTW of selling its soul; another wondered how the RTW’s just considering the Eversource offer wasn’t tantamount to an endorsement of Northern Pass.

There were also posts citing the inevitability of Northern Pass and therefore the need to come away with something positive.

There was also a posting voicing the concern that some North Country property owners — who are integral to the operation of RTW and also to the state’s snowmobile trails — indicated they would deny access to both OHRVs and sleds if RTW accepted the “gift” from Eversource and Northern Pass.

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