NH Towns Assert Authority over Local Roads Regarding Northern Pass

Northern Pass attempting to sidestep home rule

Jack Savage | December 20, 2016

CONCORD, NH, Dec. 20, 2016—A consortium of 18 New Hampshire towns has asserted that only a local community has the legal right to authorize the use of local roads for a project like Northern Pass. Attorneys for the group filed a petition for a declaratory ruling to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) regarding the issue of local control of roads. The Ashland Water and Sewer Department, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (Forest Society), and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) joined the petition as well.

“Towns should not and cannot stand by and allow large out-of-state entities to usurp local control of town roads,” said Steve Ellis, Chairman of the Board of Selectman in Pittsburg. “As elected officials it is our duty to protect our citizens from any outside entity that arrogantly tries to use us for their own economic benefit and to our detriment.

“But, it’s not just about Northern Pass,” Ellis said. “There’s a fundamental public safety issue here that is of importance to all towns and cities. If Eversource, operating on behalf of Hydro-Quebec, is allowed to get away with their attempt to sidestep local permitting of local road use, every town in the state will have lost. We will be forever subject to the whims of any entity deciding for themselves that they can use our roads for their private purposes at any time.”

Northern Pass itself has skirted the issue, submitting blank applications for use of local roads to the SEC.  The petitioners “seek a declaratory ruling stating that the SEC does not have exclusive authority to grant the permits and licenses specified in RSA 231:161 for the installation of portions of the proposed transmission line and its supporting structures located across, over, under, and alongside locally maintained highways. Therefore, the ruling should further state that Applicants must obtain from municipal officers the permits and licenses required by RSA 231:160 et seq.”

The municipal petitioners include Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Bristol, Clarksville, City of Concord, Deerfield, Easton, Franconia, Littleton, New Hampton, Northumberland, Pembroke, Pittsburg, Plymouth, Stewartstown, Sugar Hill and Whitefield, Woodstock and the Ashland Water and Sewer Department.

Northern Pass proposes to install electric transmission lines, as well as the respective attachments and appurtenances to support those lines, across, alongside, and under roads maintained in each of the communities.

The petition asks the SEC to establish a separate docket to address the local control issue. According to the petition, “Reading RSA 162-H, RSA 231:160 et seq., and SEC Rule 301.03 together, there is a clear legislative intent that entities wishing to construct an electric transmission line (and its supporting structures) across, over, under, or alongside a locally maintained highway must first obtain the required licenses and permits from the Selectmen of the relevant municipalities before filing for certification from the SEC. The SEC does not have exclusive authority to grant said licenses and permits.”

The SEC has 90 days to render its decision and response to the petition. The petition can be read here.