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Northern Pass land purchases questioned

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 07. 2017 11:13PM

CONCORD — The proposed Northern Pass project paid nearly $100,000 more to acquire a Bethlehem property than a previous buyer did only 13 days before.

Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo highlighted five properties in which a middleman bought properties that were later sold to Renewable Properties Inc., an Eversource subsidiary tasked with buying land.

That meant Renewable Properties paid more than $500,000 more than the middlemen who bought the properties from their previous owners, Saffo said.

“In all these cases, significantly above the appraised value, correct?” Saffo last week asked an Eversource executive before a state committee considering the project.

“Certainly above the appraised value, yes,” said Kenneth Bowes, Eversource’s vice president of engineering.

That Main Street property in Bethlehem that Renewable Properties bought for $363,933 on Jan. 26, 2015, carried an “appraised parcel value” of $110,200 for the nearly acre parcel and single-story home, according to property records.

Bethlehem Ventures, LLC bought the land for $265,000 13 days earlier.

“Do you know why the project team wouldn’t purchase them directly from the landowners and instead chose to go through” several limited liability companies, asked Saffo.

Bowes said he did not know the answer, explaining that the “project team” was responsible for choosing property sites and agreeing on purchase prices.

Another property, one in Dalton assessed for $13,000, was purchased by another LLC for $159,800, then went through a trust and eventually was bought by Renewable Properties for $353,800, Saffo said.

Through last year, Northern Pass had spent more than $190 million — including $40 million on acquiring land to secure the 192-mile route through more than 30 communities. The proposed $1.6 billion project to bring hydropower from Canada into New England 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.

LLC purchases questioned

Attorney Danielle Pacik, representing the city of Concord, also asked the Northern Pass construction panel last week what it knew about those involved in the LLCs.

Pacik said at least a few of the LLCs shared the same Houston address, and that Quanta Services — the parent company for Northern Pass’s general contractor, PAR Electrical Contractors, Inc., — also was headquartered in Houston.

“Do you know if Quanta was involved in the purchases of any of these properties back in 2015?” she asked.

Bowes said he did not know the answer.

An executive for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which opposes the project, said he doesn’t know why Northern Pass didn’t buy the properties directly.

“This is a bit of a mystery and sometimes behind the mystery is something going on that an entity doesn’t want anybody to know about,” Jack Savage said.

“The issue of Northern Pass purchasing properties is not new,” project spokesman Martin Murray said over the weekend.

Renewable Properties “purchased land from willing sellers for fair market value or more than fair market value,” Murray said in an email.

He declined to discuss individual property purchases.

“As far as I am aware, all sellers made their own independent decisions to sell property,” Murray said. “I presume they are all satisfied with the outcome.”

The Union Leader last month interviewed Stewartstown dairy farmer Roderick McAllaster, who said he was offered around $4 million to use some of his property for Northern Pass. He said people he understood to be representing interests of Northern Pass made the offer.

“A lot of people were working undercover for them,” McAllaster said.

Hearings resume May 31

The Northern Pass hearings take a break until May 31, when the six-person construction panel returns. Next up will be a five-member panel of Northern Pass witnesses to discuss environmental issues.

Robert Varney, a former commissioner with the state Department of Environmental Services, will be on the panel.

Energy Bethlehem State Government