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Deerfield raises $10k to hire attorney to fight Northern Pass

Union Leader Correspondent

November 21. 2016 11:31PM

DEERFIELD — The legal fight in defense of a proposed transmission line that would end in town continues.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to accept a donation of over $10,000 raised by residents on Monday. But this money will be eaten up fast — based on the current bills, the town will only have a few hundred dollars left in their legal fund.

“Even accepting all this money, we’ll have $286 left,” said Selectmen Chair Steve Barry.

During the May 2 Selectmen meeting, the board discussed hiring an attorney for a case against the Northern Pass project. Officials gave Barry permission to sign a contract with Steven Whitley from Mitchell Municipal Group PA in Laconia to have him represent the town if the residents were able to raise the $3,000 to hire him.

Barry said because residents had voted down a warrant article in 2015 to start a fund to hire an attorney, money from the operating budget cannot be used.

However, per state law, residents can raise the money through donations to fund the position.

Within two weeks, more than double that amount had been raised.

The project has been a controversial topic for the last few years. Many have voiced opposition to the project for reasons like possibly ruining the rural aesthetic of the town.

Northern Pass is a 192-mile transmission line project that could bring 1,090 megawatts of hydropower from Canada to New Hampshire, according to the project’s website.

The proposed line — which would be above and below ground — would go through the middle of the Granite State, through more than 30 towns and cities, including Deerfield.

The line will end at a substation in town.

Residents also raised some concerns about the suggestion of burying the lines in town, a position Whitley is asking whether or not he should argue on behalf of the town.

Though this would help to maintain the aesthetics of the town — and possibly bring in more of an investment from project developers — residents are concerned there’s not enough information about what this alternative might mean.

Suzanne Steele, who said she is opposed to the project in its entirety, said her concerns about burying the line come from a health standpoint.

“It may be there for 5 to 10 years before things are noticed,” she said. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen long term with this type of power buried throughout the state.”

This lack of information is something Whitley will continue to resolve through his work with the town.

The Board of Selectmen passed on questions put together by the town’s Conservation Commission and Planning Board to Whitley for him to discuss with developers.

The Conservation Commission and Planning Board want to compare how aspects of the project stand up next to what the town has planned for the future.

“It’s really an attempt to get information,” said Kate Hartnett, vice chair of the Planning Board.

Funding for Whitley will have to continue to be through donations unless a warrant article is passed by voters this March, allowing the town to use money from the general fund.

Since this failed article in 2015 was proposed by the selectmen, officials now want a petition warrant article to bring about the change of funding Whitley’s services for the town.

“We feel it would be better served by a warrant article coming from the people,” said Selectmen R. Andrew Robertson.

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