Credibility of Northern Pass contractor questionedBy MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader
July 31. 2017 8:07PM
CONCORD — A family dispute over whether more than $300,000 given to a Northern Pass contractor was a gift or a loan spilled over to a Northern Pass hearing Monday.
Attorney Thomas Pappas brought up the bankruptcy filing of Rye resident Brian Underwood, a Northern Pass contractor whose research helped determine whether transmission lines affected real estate prices.
Pappas, before the state Site Evaluation Committee considering Northern Pass, said there was a complaint saying Underwood “allegedly provided false testimony.”
Pappas asked Northern Pass witness James Chalmers — who incorporated Underwood’s research in his own report about property sales near transmission lines — whether he knew why a creditor in Underwood’s bankruptcy was objecting to a discharge of Underwood’s debts.
“Are you aware that the grounds for that objection is that Mr. Underwood allegedly provided false testimony?” said Pappas, an attorney for the counsel for the public.
“I have no knowledge of any of this,” said Chalmers, a Montana economist, appraiser and expert in assessing the impacts of large-sale infrastructure projects on the value of real estate.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Roth, who also serves as the counsel for the public and oversees Pappas, said afterward: “This complaint alleges Mr. Underwood perjured himself. It goes to his honesty and integrity and thus his credibility.”
Allegations ‘lack merit’
That complaint, filed by Underwood’s former mother-in-law in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manchester last March, accused Underwood of making a “false statement” regarding alleged loans that Underwood maintained were gifts, according to court records.
A judge ordered Underwood to file an answer to the complaint by Aug. 11.
Underwood’s Nashua attorney, Peter Tamposi, disputed the allegations and said “they lack merit.”
“Allegations in the complaint have nothing to do with Mr. Underwood’s professional skill or integrity,” said Tamposi, who noted Underwood chaired a real estate appraisal board for four years.
Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said in an email that Underwood was hired by Northern Pass Transmission “and worked under the direction of Mr. Chalmers in the development of a comprehensive broad-based study of property sales in NH, along transmission rights of way.
“There is no correlation between the work Mr. Underwood did on behalf of the project and his personal financial difficulties,” Murray said.
The proposed $1.6 billion project, which would run through more than 30 communities, needs several state and federal approvals before it can start operating by late 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.
Before being questioned about Underwoods’s finances, Chalmers said he used Underwood’s data regarding dozens of properties Underwood studied on whether power lines affected their sale prices. Chalmers also read summaries of interviews Underwood did with real estate agents and others to help understand sales prices.
“In order to reach your conclusions, you had to rely on Mr. Underwood’s credibility, did you not?” Pappas said.
“I did,” Chalmers said.
A short time later, Pappas asked: “And you had to rely on his judgment in many instances, correct?”
“Yes,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers said he wasn’t aware of Underwood’s financial difficulties, which Pappas said dated back several years.
Pappas also challenged Chalmers’ written report, which included case studies on 58 properties that sold near transmission lines around New Hampshire in recent years, including research by Underwood.
Chalmer’s report said “sales price effects are infrequent,” with 10 cases showing a negative sales price effect and another 11 cases showing possible sales price effect.
Pappas said a chart in Chalmers study showed 29 of 58 properties sold for less than their appraised value.
Chalmers said other factors, including interviews Underwood did with real estate agents and others, also were important in deciding whether power lines affected prices.
“The appraisal evidence has to be interpreted carefully,” Chalmers said. “You’ve been sort of pointing out that about half of the appraisals are coming out with a value greater than the sales price, but about half are coming out with a value less than the sales price,” Chalmers said. “What does that imply? Does that imply if you take that literally, if you simply blindly look at that, that implies that the transmission lines are increasing the value right, because we’re nominally holding everything else equal? Well, I don’t think that.”