STEWARTSTOWN — In a cathartic cleansing by fire, some of the earliest opponents of the Northern Pass Transmission project gathered at the Poore Family Homestead Historic Farm Museum on Saturday to burn a model of a high-voltage tower.
Located off Route 145, approximately 7 miles from Pittsburg in the north and Colebrook in the south, the Poore farm is a homestead that documents the life of one family from the 1830s to the 1980s.
The farm is part of the Poore Family Foundation, whose mission is to serve as a “historical and educational site illustrating a way of life that existed prior to rural electrification.”
When Public Service of New Hampshire — now Eversource — announced that it was working with Hydro-Quebec to bring hydroelectricity from Canada into the New England power grid along a 192-mile route from Pittsburg to Deerfield, the Poore farm signed on as an intervener against the project known as Northern Pass Transmission.
In 2018, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee rejected Eversource’s application for NPT and on July 19 the NH Supreme Court upheld that decision.
Already having been scheduled to host a concert on Aug. 10, the Poore farm, in the wake of the Supreme Court opinion, expanded the event into a victory party that was capped by the burning of a 16-foot-tall replica of one of the much taller transmission towers that might have sprouted up around the farm and throughout the upper North Country.
Before it was set on fire, the tower model, made of wood and built by Rick Johnsen and his son Zach, was filled with the detritus of the often contentious struggle between NPT and its opponents: inch-thick reports and studies, both pro and con; flyers; route maps; signs.
Ben Martin, an NPT intervener from neighboring Clarksville, covered the pile of materials inside the open-framed tower with automotive ether and Rick Johnsen, executive director of the Poore Family Foundation, used a road flare to ignite the pile.
The resulting fire burned brightly and well, drawing praise from onlookers, many of whom were also impressed with the Johnsens’ handiwork.
“It’s very well-built,” said one man, as the fire shot straight up the center of the tower and methodically began consuming it. After about 15 minutes, the top of the tower buckled and fell forward, drawing whoops and applause.
A short while later, the rest of the tower collapsed, falling neatly into a tight circle and literally burning down to the ground.
The joy of that moment was saddened for Johnsen by the memory of those who could not be there, among them William Schomburg, Valerie Herres and John Amey, all of whom, like the Poore farm, came out early and powerfully against NPT but died before the project was officially over.
Johnsen and Martin noted that NPT was the second energy-transmission project proposed to go through the area in the last 30 years. The first engendered similar opposition, they said, and was ultimately pushed west into Vermont.
“I never thought in a million years that it’d happen again,” said Johnsen.
Martin said burning a transmission tower in effigy was a “nice closure” to the threat that NPT posed.
“It was a long fight,” he said.