Forest Society Still Fighting for North Country Landscapes

Op-ed in Colebrook News & Sentinel

Jack Savage | September 2, 2015

In light of the announcement a few weeks ago from Northern Pass that they are now proposing to bury Northern Pass transmission lines around the White Mountain National Forest--while leaving them largely overhead in Coos County and elsewhere--we want to let people know where we stand.

Our position is today no different than it has been. The Forest Society believes that if Northern Pass is to be built, it should be undergrounded in its entirety along appropriate transportation corridors. While we think Eversource deserves credit for moving to advanced cable technology that is easier to bury, we think that only strengthens the argument for burial along roads through Coos County--and for that matter, everywhere in New Hampshire. When it comes to protection of New Hampshire's scenic splendor, we think the North Country is no less important than the White Mountains and, in its own way, even more spectacular. We don't believe that private landowners should be afforded less consideration simply because they don't have the added protection of federal ownership.

We also continue to maintain that Northern Pass cannot build their proposed route through Clarksville and Stewartstown without eminent domain, We are preparing a vigorous defense of our property rights, and those of landowners who have worked with us to put conservation easements on their lands.Northern Pass is facing a long permitting struggle with, at best, a very uncertain outcome. We don't intend to let them dig in our dirt.

In addition, we see no meaningful public benefit in carving a longer, serpentine overhead route through northern Coos. It would appear that the present proposed route through Pittsburg, Clarksville, Stewartstown to Dixville and Millsville is a relic of the old transmission line technology as Northern Pass hopes to preserve the private benefit Eversource itself and of one large landowner. It makes little sense.

There are still many questions to be answered about the latest proposal. It has not gone unnoticed that much of the financial incentive package also would directly benefit Eversource by virtue of the upgrade of the Coos Loop. It has not gone unnoticed that the cost of the project, $1.4 billion, has not gone up even though it includes 52 more miles of burial. It has not gone unnoticed that NP is still a private transmission line and that there are other projects (New England Clean Power Link in Vermont) that would yield the same outcome without overhead towers or lines. There has been no determination of need for this power, only a declaration of want by Eversource and Hydro-Quebec.

It would seem that NP still must answer the question of why the rest of the line could not be buried, as the Draft EIS says is feasible, given that Hydro-Quebec is footing the bill. Or, asked another way, why should New Hampshire’s landowners and landscapes subsidize Hydro-Quebec by permitting overhead towers and lines?

A few of us who work at the Forest Society visited the Colebrook area this past weekend. We were, as we always are, struck by the beauty of the land. In talking to landowners--and visitors for that matter--we were also happily reminded of how people here value land and their heritage. We share those values.