HOLDING FAST: PEOPLE WHO WON'T SELL TO NORTHERN PASS
“You would think,” said Rod McAllaster, “that the Northern Pass representatives would understand that I have a legal contract with the Forest Society. Either they think the contract can be broken before it is recorded or they think the funds won’t be raised and the contract will be voided.”
By Donna Jordan, The Colebrook Chronicle October 12 Edition
It was two years ago this week that the Northern Pass Transmission Line project was first publicly announced. Today, hundreds of acres of land from Pittsburg to Colebrook have been purchased by subsidiaries for the transmission line route, even after protests and petitions and arguments in the state legislature against the project.
But there are North Country landowners who are holding fast against the Northern Pass transmission line project—some, in fact, have even rejected offers in the millions of dollars for their property. For those who are saying no, they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the legacy and the heritage that was handed down from one generation to the next—and they would like to do the same for their children.
Four landowners have signed agreements with the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests to sell conservation easements as a way to perhaps protect their land from this type of commercial development. The Forest Society is facing an Oct. 31 deadline to raise $2.5 million in order to purchase those easements from the four landowners—some $400,000 has been raised to-date—permanently protecting the property not only from the Northern Pass transmission line, but any other line that could be proposed in perpetuity. The landowners would continue to own their lands, which can be passed down to children and grandchildren in hopes that they, too, might someday work the fields and the woodlands. The Forest Society says that by holding the easements on these four lands, they can block the transmission line from passing through, even while other property continues to be purchased by Northern Pass. There are three parcels in Stewartstown and one in Columbia.
Among those agreeing to the Forest Society easement are Rod and Donna McAllaster, who own several hundred acres up Bear Rock Road in Stewartstown. Among their holdings, 967 acres is slated for the new easement. “We call it the home farm,” Rod said. There is other land he and his wife own that won’t be included in the easement. “This land going into the easement is what was once five individual farms in years gone by,” explained Rod. “They’re old. The farm up on the hill, which was homesteaded by the Flanders, they moved there about 1850—is the newest one of the five. The farm where we live now is older, the next one up was homesteaded by the Kidders—that’s an old-old establishment, the one on top was the Claude Knights—he was a premiere horseman. He had the job of rolling the roads in Colebrook.”
Rod can drive you up woods roads and old town roads and show you cellar holes and old stone foundations that are over a century old; and he will tell you about how the families at that time farmed in order to live their day-to-day lives, not for any commercial gain. He talks with respect and admiration for these old family names and old dirt roads. There’s a lot of age and a lot of history here, he said as we tour around his properties and talk about his feelings against the transmission line. “I was born here. I just like being here. And I like the idea of staying here. If Northern Pass puts their power lines where they have intended to, they can’t get through here,” said Rod, whose land is a virtual block amid the many other parcels they have bought around him.
He explains that there is a corner post near land owned by the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters which, he says, is not as wide as Northern Pass thought when they purchased land from Mary Ball and Landon Placey. “They can’t get through that four corners. It’s not as wide as they thought it was for a right of way over the road,” said Rod. “It seems I’m more important to them now than I ever was. They made the statement that the properties involved with the Forest Society easements were of no value to them, but that doesn’t seem to be true.” He knows this, he said, because, in what he describes as happening in a round about way—an offer was made just two weeks ago. It seems that a girl who was a family friend lives in southern New Hampshire with her boyfriend, who works for the brother of Scott Mason—who works for the project. Scott Mason, who owns the Mason Farm in Stratford, has worked for the transmission line project ever since its inception, visiting with property owners in an effort to convince them to sell to the transmission line. “They sent word that if I would be willing to let them pass through that I would be four million dollars better off,” said Rod, who is not happy that they appeared to force a family friend into having to make the offer.
“You would think,” said Rod, “that the Northern Pass representatives would understand that I have a legal contract with the Forest Society. Either they think the contract can be broken before it is recorded or they think the funds won’t be raised and the contract will be voided.” The first offer came about a year ago he explained, when he was called on the telephone by Brian Emerson of Groveton—who also has been working for the transmission line project. Later on, Bob Goddard of Berlin, who works for the Northern Pass project, showed up on Rod’s doorstep. “He told me that Northern Pass wanted to do a land trade with me. And now, a year later, they are back with the four million offer. That’s the first monetary offer I had,” he said.
Rod is dead-set against the project. He can’t imagine having to see the 140-foot tall steel towers on land all around him. “My father and my father’s brother were also born here. My grandfather was here, and before that my uncle helped his uncle, Fay Flanders, and Fay’s father homesteaded one of the five farms. My father and his brother were responsible for putting this farm together; all I’ve done is try to keep it going. They farmed together their whole lives and deserve the credit,” he said. And now, Rod’s son, Paul, Paul’s wife Jessica and their children also live on the dairy farm.
Rod and his family agree that there might be other ways to route the transmission line around the farm, but that it is simpler for the line to go across their land. “But there are quite a few landowners around me, if they try to pursue that route—some 20 to 40 property owners. They would have to pretty near go back to where they come out of Hall’s Stream” in order to make that work, he said.
Standing at the top of the land going into the Forest Socety easement, the view looks off toward Hall’s Stream with the Canadian border just beyond—the entrance point that Hydro-Quebec is looking at using. In another direction can be seen the land sold to Northern Pass by Pauline Lemieux and David Hicks and still others. With Rod McAllaster’s and Green Acres Woodlands smack-dab in the middle. “This is not the absolute final property that would stop them, but I seem to be the one they want right now. They bought some parcels I believe they didn’t need, but perhaps it’s for the sake of disguise,” said Rod, referring to a recent agreement with Monda Placey and her sister, Suzanne Fournier. (Rod is related to the Placey family through his mother.) This week logging could be seen taking place on one of the parcels. And full-time tenants have been asked to leave their rental homes because of the sale, Rod said.
Last winter, these two sisters sold a portion of land that had been a part of the Burleigh Placey farm (their father), another piece of land that goes back generations. In addition, this past June Monda’s daughter, Laurie Hodgman, sold her land and home. “I stood on what became Laurie’s land and helped spread Burleigh’s ashes after he died,” said Rod. “Laurie told me that was where she wanted to live and planned to build her house up there. Well she did build, and now she has sold to the Northern Pass. And if that line is built, they will be going right over Burleigh’s ashes,” said Rod.
“That Hodgman property was important to them because of the Balsams easement,” Rod said. “But the most important parcel they got was from Kevin Edwards.” With that piece, said Rod, it allows them to cross over from Stewartstown into Colebrook and Dixville Notch, above the Balsams easement and onto Wagner Forest lands. “That Hodgman property cost them a lot of money because it was very important; that Edwards piece—which cost a lot—was the most important piece.”
He concluded, “This old stuff is in me, and a power line doesn’t fit into it. I’m not for sale to them.”
Lynne Placey’s home, just down the road from the McAllasters, is sitting on five generations of family-owned land in Stewartstown. Passed down from her husband’s grandfather, William Placey, to her husband’s father, Guy Placey, Sr., to her husband Donald, the 78-acre parcel further up on Holden Hill is a piece of land that the Northern Pass would like to include in their list of land purchases—and it’s a piece of land that Lynne holds very dear. Ever since the Northern Pass began making offers to her, starting in 2011, Lynne has said no—she was not interested and never would be. Turning down as much as half a million dollars. This week, three years after the passing of her husband, Lynne remains hopeful that her children and grandchildren will be the fourth and fifth generation to own that property on Holden Hill that Northern Pass was anxious to purchase from her.
“It’s land that has always been ours—Donald’s and mine,” said Lynne. “I met him in 1963, and that was one of the first places he took me, to that Holden Hill property. That was one of our first dates. I have lots of memories and it’s a beautiful place.” Donald and his forefathers used to hunt there said Lynne. “He thought a lot of that property. Having married him, I grew to be as fond of the land as he was. I think it is a more valuable legacy to leave my children and grandchildren property; and then if they want to hay the fields, they can do that. I think those type of things are more valuable than money. Material things are going to rust or mold or disintegrate. But if you keep it in your family, the land is something you can pass from one generation to another for years and years to come. That’s how I look at it and I’m sure that’s how Donald would look at it.”
Lynne misses her husband every day since his passing, and she said it doesn’t get any easier as time goes on. She spends her days giving piano lessons. “I have a lot to be thankful for. We were married almost 42 years,” she said. “I know Donald would never have sold” to Northern Pass.
Lynne and the Placey family have become a family divided, she said, over what she considers “greed and a lack of respect for a family legacy.” She went on to say, “This has solidified those of us who agree that we don’t like the Northern Pass project and brought us closer—those of us who are faithful to our heritage. And it’s made a big divide with those who have sold out. Her husband’s sister, said Lynne, won’t speak to family members who have sold land that once belonged to their father, Burleigh Placey, a former Town Constable. “She’s told them she has disowned them, that her father and brother (Burleigh) worked hard on that property. Lynne said her sister-in-law kids about how Burleigh would react if someone had ever offered him four million dollars for his farm and woodlands. “Burleigh would have gotten pleasure going to Howard’s Restaurant (his favorite stopping place in Colebrook) and telling everyone that he turned down four million,” said Lynne. “He was very attached to his land. I don’t know how much people are cognizant of what’s happening after their gone, but he is probably extremely upset.”
She talked about how her nieces, Monda Placey and Monda’s sister, Suzanne Fournier, sold their land for the Northern Pass last February for $700,000, and how they are selling the remaining Burleigh Placey lands. One lot, said Lynne, is known as the Gleason lot, and another parcel is on South Hill. The Gleason lot is where the rental units are located, she said, and the renters have talked publicly in the past two weeks, saying they have been asked to leave.
Lynne is skeptical about the “jobs” that have been touted as a benefit of this project. “I fully believe they will bring their own crews in here to do the work—I object to a foreign country coming in and taking over our land and dictating what’s going to happen. So I am opposed at the principal. Some people say if they bury it, they will accept it. I don’t agree with that. This is not the way to do it. I believe we have our own resources for energy. And Connecticut and Rhode Island and Massachusetts and New York have their own ways to get electricity. There are wind turbines in the ocean, they are still an eyesore—but they are lesser eyesores than a swath down through the state of New Hampshire. Along with the fact that I don’t want to lose my land, and I want my children and grandchildren to be able to enjoy it, I don’t want to leave my neighbors and friends with this horrible mess to look at when they don’t want it,” she said.
“I am adamantly opposed to this,” said Lynne. “It isn’t just the idea of giving up family land, it’s that people in this state do not want this project. And I still cannot understand why our state legislature can’t make them get out of here. Why are they allowed to come in like Goliath and try to take it over? I just don’t understand. I owe allegiance to my neighbors and my fellow country man that lives around here. If Stewartstown or Colebrook needed electricity in a terrible way and we would get some from this, it would make a difference. We aren’t going to get anything from this. It’s going to be this horrible swath right through the state. I personally feel it’s greed. Money is the root of all evil,” said Lynne, referring to those who have sold to the Northern Pass. “One of the consolations to Rod and I is that it must be absolutely killing (their relatives who) bit first and they got much less than everyone else.”
In the end, says Lynne, she is “flabbergasted” that the voice of the people is not being heard. “Apparently I don’t understand the legalities—there must be some way they have of just pushing aside the will of the people. I feel real deep in my heart that Gov. Lynch could have put a stop to this way back when. I don’t know why they can still persist when we the people have told them we don’t want it. Especially when it’s a company from another country. I would like to go to Concord and ask them, why can’t you put a stop to this? Go back over the border…this we don’t want.”
On a related front, The Forest Society is still looking for donations to help with the purchase of the four easements designed to block Northern Pass. The Forest Society reports that donations can be made on its website at www.forestsociety.org/np or by calling 224-9945.