Northern Pass officials seek more hearing daysBy MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader
June 30. 2017 12:57AM
Northern Pass officials want to schedule 15 more hearing days this summer before a state committee considering the project — including the option of evening sessions.
Project opponents say some attorneys in the case already have made travel plans with nonrefundable plane tickets and say any added dates should include extending the Sept. 30 decision deadline set by the Site Evaluation Committee.
Northern Pass attorney Barry Needleman said in his request that he recognizes “the many challenges” to the committee “in conducting a proceeding of this magnitude and importance.”
He is requesting 15 more hearing dates during July, August and early September.
Nearly two-dozen hearing dates already are scheduled between July 18 and Sept. 29. About 20 hearing days already have taken place.
Under state law, the Site Evaluation Committee is to decide on project applications within 12 months of an application being accepted, according to Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray. The committee extended that schedule by about nine months, to Sept. 30, he said.
Needleman said there were 40 business days available between July and early September.
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.
“One of the many challenges concerns the estimated times of cross-examination,” Needleman wrote. “For instance, cross-examination of the construction panel was estimated to take four days but took seven days, which not only has the effect of extending the proceedings but impacts the availability of both the applicants’ witnesses and other participants.”
Attorneys for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, a project opponent, said requesting possible evening sessions “is untethered from reality” and that answers from some Northern Pass witnesses “were evasive and time-consuming.”
Attorneys Steven Whitley and C. Christine Fillmore, who combined represent about a dozen communities opposed to the project, said any suggestion for hearings to “be extended to later in the evening is unreasonable and unprecedented.”
They said some people involved in the proceedings travel more than two hours in each direction.
The 192-mile project passes through or abuts “well over 1,000 properties and will have environmental and aesthetic impacts at many of those parcels,” read the objection from Whitley and Fillmore. “The number of involved parties is understandable under the circumstances, as many municipalities and property owners are concerned about the impacts of the proposed Northern Pass transmission line and structures.”
They said the parties already had been required to attend technical sessions and hearings that sometimes last until 6 p.m., if not later, which “leaves a limited time for travel, trial preparation and other activities such as eating, sleeping and other work obligations.”