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Plenty of people with plenty to say at upcoming Northern Pass hearing

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 09. 2017 8:00PM

CONCORD — As many as 145 more people are expected to testify — either individually or as part of panels — before a state committee considering Northern Pass.

“We definitely need more days” added to the schedule, Michael Iacopino, counsel to the Site Evaluation Committee, said Wednesday.

Separately, the committee announced Wednesday it will conduct another public statement hearing to gather comments from the public. That is set for Aug. 30 between 5 and 8 p.m. at 49 Donovan St. in Concord.

Iacopino led a pre-hearing conference with people involved in the case to assess how much time various groups and individuals estimate they will need to cross-examine witnesses and to confirm what witnesses will get called.

Dozens of local officials from towns where the route would cut through are on the witness list, with a majority opposing the project. Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, a project backer, also is expected to appear.

Other witnesses include those with expertise in the environment, economics and aesthetics.

Witnesses typically file written testimony before appearing before the committee to be cross-examined by other parties — including attorneys representing municipalities and sometimes residents living right near the proposed route if they were granted intervenor status.

About two-dozen witnesses on behalf of Northern Pass already have appeared before the committee and have faced cross-examination from opponents.

Northern Pass attorneys will get the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses of the other parties, such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the Conservation Law Foundation.

The proposed $1.6 billion project, which runs 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 approvals by the end of this year. The route runs from Pittsburg to Deerfield and includes 60 miles of buried lines.

To date, the committee has conducted 27 hearing days, with another 15 scheduled between Aug. 29 and Sept. 29.

The committee had given itself a Sept. 30 deadline for issuing a ruling on whether to grant a required certificate of site and facility. The committee would need to vote to extend that deadline. The committee’s eventual deliberations will be conducted in public.

Two project opponents plan to submit videos, including one showing the proposed route. At least some people who appeared in or helped make the videos are expected to appear.

One panel of witnesses will include nine people.

“We’ll make it,” Iacopino said. “It might be a little crowded, but we’ll make it.”

Eversource Energy recently pushed back by as much as a year the in-service date for its Northern Pass project. It cited as one reason a longer SEC review process than envisioned.

“We understand the difficult nature of coordinating individual schedules and have made a number of attempts to work with officials and intervenors in hopes of adjusting the schedule to ‘avoid undue delay and assure the prompt and orderly conduct of the proceeding,’ including a recent motion to add more hearing days before the Sept. 30 deadline and to extend hearing hours,” project spokesman Martin Murray said in an email.

“We remain confident that the SEC will make every effort possible to return a timely decision and we expect to receive all necessary state and federal permits by the end of the year,” he said.

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