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Legislators push for entire Northern Pass route to be buried

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 20. 2017 1:19PM
Chelsea Petereit of North Stratford embraces her husband, Mark McCullock, after he spoke at the Northern Pass hearing in Concord on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — More than 100 current and former legislators signed a petition urging a state committee to require the entire 192-mile Northern Pass route be buried or vote the project down.

More than 1,000 steel towers rising 90 feet high or higher would be “among the tallest and ugliest man-made structures in New Hampshire,” Rep. Neal Kurk R-Weare, told the Site Evaluation Committee on Thursday.

“At these heights, I believe that Northern Pass would literally disfigure the face of our state and would permanently scar some of our most iconic landscapes, destroying vistas that represent what is most special, most unique about New Hampshire to its residents and visitors alike,” said Kurk, one of the original legislators signing the petition that was submitted Thursday.

Later, Easton resident Melissa Elander said she collected 20,000 petition signatures — “20,000 voices,” she said — from people opposing the project, delivering boxes containing her efforts. She collected 14,000 paper signatures and 6,000 online.

More than 40 people spoke Thursday during a hearing for public comment. All but a handful opposed the project.

The proposed $1.6 billion project needs several state and federal approvals before it can start operating in late 2019 or early 2020. Project officials hope to garner all necessary approvals by the end of this year. The route runs from Pittsburg to Deerfield and includes 60 miles of buried lines.

Peggy Huard of Hudson speaks out against the Northern Pass at Thursday's hearing in Concord. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

An executive of BAE Systems — the state’s largest manufacturer with 5,500 workers in New Hampshire — said the Nashua defense contractor and other businesses need lower electricity prices.

“It is increasingly difficult to be competitive in New Hampshire due to the high cost of energy in New Hampshire compared with other regions of the country,” said Mark Bailey, BAE’s director of facilities.

“BAE Systems and all of New Hampshire businesses need low-cost, reliable energy in the state to remain competitive in a global marketplace,” said Bailey, who submitted a list of nearly 50 businesses backing the project.

The committee has received between 1,700 and 1,900 written comments regarding Northern Pass with negative comments outnumbering supportive ones by at least a 11-to-1 ratio.

Sugar Hill resident Katherine Aldrich Cote, owner of Polly’s Pancake Parlor, submitted a list of more than 75 letters from Franconia-area businesses that fear being hurt by project construction in the region over parts of two years.

While not on the direct proposed burial path, “we know that disruption and construction will impact our business tremendously,” said Cote, who counted 95,000 customers last year.

She employs nearly 50 workers but fears she may have to lay off employees if business suffers.

Mark McCullock of North Stratford gestures while speaking out against the Northern Pass at Thursday's hearing in Concord. At right are boxes of thousands of petitions against the project. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

“With our recent rebuild, we are at a very tenuous place monetarily and if we have any decrease in business, it will be devastational for us,” Cote said.

Meanwhile, a letter was read from Chief Rene Simon of the Pessamit Innu First Nation in Quebec. He said he wasn’t taking a position on the project’s impacts in New Hampshire.

Simon said Hydro-Quebec, which would transmit hydropower from Canada into New England using Northern Pass transmission lines, decades ago placed hydroelectric plants and reservoirs on its homeland without compensation or consent, and that a main food source, salmon, is “on the verge of extinction.”

Hydro-Quebec spokesman Lynn St-Laurent, who attended the hearing, told reporters there are many potential reasons for changes in the salmon population and that Hydro-Quebec has worked with the Pessamit on a “very successful” salmon restoration program.

Operations to generate power that would flow over Northern Pass lines won’t impact the Pessamit, St-Laurent said.

Mark McCullock, a North Stratford resident who said he uses solar for a majority of his house and business electricity needs, said some people have been fighting this project for seven years.

“This is ridiculous to put citizens of the state of New Hampshire through this process this long,” McCullock said. “I got one thing to say to any one of those people that say they need this Hydro-Quebec power: go solar, stupid.”

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