In just over one month, the Supreme Court will hear Northern Pass’s appeal of the Site Evaluation Committee’s (SEC) unanimous decision to deny a site certificate. So many years have passed since Northern Pass was proposed, making this a good time to refresh our memories of what a blight this 192-mile high-voltage transmission line would be on New Hampshire.
The massive industrial towers
There’s the staggering height of the proposed industrial transmission towers and lines, which would irreparably harm our tourism industry and decrease property values.
Eight miles of these lines and towers would be constructed above-ground in our northern-most towns, Pittsburg, Clarksville, and Stewartstown, rural and bucolic places that currently have no transmission lines at all. Not only would Northern Pass need to clear-cut forests and farms in hacking out a new corridor where the lines and towers would be located, it would need to clear-cut for new access roads so they could build and then maintain the lines and towers.
These giant industrial lines and towers would be erected in or near special places like the Halls Stream valley, Connecticut River Valley, Connecticut River Scenic Byways, the historic Indian Stream Republic area of Pittsburg, the Washburn Conservation Area in Clarksville, and Coleman State Park in Stewartstown, permanently marring these unique Granite State vistas. This video captures the breathtaking beauty of this unique part of our state and the damage Northern Pass would do.
The towers and lines in this area would range from 80 to 135 feet high.
Why would we allow this to happen in a place of such unspoiled beauty? Remember this isn’t a project we need to bolster our electric grid in New Hampshire. And New Hampshire doesn’t need the power. We are a net exporter of power, already producing more power in New Hampshire than we use here. Make no mistake - this is a project intended to pad the profits of Eversource and Hydro Quebec.
Then there’s the 124 miles of overhead towers and lines that would be built from Bridgewater to Deerfield. Eversource maintains this will have no impact on these towns because the lines and towers will be constructed in an existing transmission corridor. But there will be 1,203 new industrial towers built, and the towers and lines will be as high as 160 feet – higher than our State House dome. These will dwarf the existing towers and lines. According to a brief filed by Concord and 12 towns with the Supreme Court, “The heights of the towers were on average double (and sometimes triple) the heights of existing structures in the corridor.”
And to make room for the Northern Pass transmission line, the existing wooden structures in 84 miles of the corridor would have to be moved and be replaced by metal towers. Vegetation that currently shields the view of the existing line would be removed in some areas.
Northern Pass’s tourism “expert” testified that all of this would have zero impact on tourism.
In contrast, the tourism expert for Counsel for the Public stated that the tourism impacts “could result in an annual loss of 80 jobs and $5 million during the construction of the project, and an annual loss of 189-320 jobs and $14-33 million during the forty years of operations.” He told the cautionary story of New Jersey:
New Jersey used to be the summer capital where all the presidents would summer and the Garden State, you know, beautiful scenery and all the rest. It doesn’t have that now. And it’s not the result of one decision or one transmission line. It’s an accumulation. Each one has some incremental negative impact, but at some point, there are only 15 percent of the people who . . . regard New Jersey as being scenic and beautiful. And it’s in the 90s, upper 90s in New Hampshire.
Tourism is New Hampshire’s second largest industry. In many of the towns Northern Pass would bisect it is the largest industry by far and in some virtually all economic activity revolves around tourism.
Why would we ever threaten the livelihood of families in these towns to boost the profits of Eversource and Hydro Quebec?
The destructive buried lines
The 60 miles of the line Northern Pass proposed to bury under narrow roads would be no less destructive.
Eight miles of the buried lines would have run under roads in Pittsburg, Clarksville, and Stewartstown, five miles of which Northern Pass proposed to be buried under roads owned and maintained by the towns. They are gravel surfaced, winding and very narrow. Stone walls, fences, historic homes and cemeteries are located within feet of these narrow roads. One of the most eye-popping moments of the SEC adjudicatory hearings was when the Northern Pass expert dismissed the impact of disturbing graves because Northern Pass would move the graves to other spots.
The other 52 miles would be buried under roads in Bethlehem to Bridgewater. Though these are state roads, they were once town roads and were laid out by town officials, some two hundred years ago. They, too, are very narrow and winding.
During construction portions of these roads would be completely closed and in others one lane would be closed. In some of these towns, such as Plymouth, the burial would be under their main streets, shuttering small businesses during the summer busy season. Some of these businesses would never recover.
In Franconia and North Woodstock their fire stations are located on roads that would be closed down during construction.
When the SEC process ended, Northern Pass still had not established the boundaries of many of these roads. Homeowners were left wondering whether property they believed they owned would be gobbled up, including stone fences, lawns, bushes and trees.
The traffic delays caused by the construction would also impact tourism during the busiest time of the year and frustrated tourists might never return.
Bringing people together
You can say one positive thing about the Northern Pass proposal – it brings people together. Democrats and Republicans, business leaders and conservationists, city dwellers and townsfolk have come together to say a loud and long “NO” to Northern Pass. Some have suggested that opposition to Northern Pass is limited to a few vocal opponents from our North Country. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One could argue that New Hampshire has never seen such a diverse coalition brought together in common purpose. Political leaders who might never otherwise work together have joined hands in solidarity against this project. Virtually every community in which Northern Pass has been proposed has not only opposed the project, but spent valuable time and resources making their cases before the SEC and soon the Supreme Court. And thousands of regular New Hampshire citizens of all walks of life have taken the time to write letters to the editor, submit comments to the SEC, organize within their towns, attend rallies, and make the case that the New Hampshire they love is not for sale.
In an era when we too often define ourselves by our differences, the fight against Northern Pass has brought people together in a unique and compelling way.
The SEC made the right decision
The burden was on Northern Pass to prove to the SEC that the project would not have an unreasonable adverse impact on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety and that it would not unduly interfere with orderly development.
The SEC members held 70 days of evidentiary hearings. More than 2,000 exhibits were introduced and 154 home and business owners, municipal officials and experts testified. More than 3000 written public comments were submitted to the SEC, overwhelmingly opposed. The SEC also undertook seven days of site visits to various points along the proposed route and held seven public hearings along the route and held six public comment sessions.
They carefully and thoroughly evaluated all this evidence and concluded unanimously that Northern Pass failed to meet its burden. Any reasonable person should agree that they made the right call.