Towns Use “Home Rule” Strategy In Northern Pass Fight

Could Set Precedent In N.H. For Other Projects

By Robert Blechl
The Caledonian Record

Who has the ultimate say over Northern Pass?

That’s what 18 of the 31 towns the hydroelectric transmission line would pass through are asking as they now take a “home rule” strategy and petition the state to assert that only a local community has the legal right to authorize the use of their roads for such projects.

For those in the fight, it’s not just about Northern Pass but about the future.

“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,” Pittsburg Board of Selectmen Chairman Steve Ellis said in a statement. “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.”

On Monday, citing the N.H. statute on communities and utility lines in highways and the statute on energy facility siting, they submitted a 28-page petition to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee - which is currently reviewing the separate Northern Pass permit application - asking for a declaratory ruling on the local control of roads.

The North Country towns that include Bethlehem, Clarksville, Easton, Franconia, Littleton, Northumberland, Pittsburg, Stewartstown, Sugar Hill, and Whitefield are asking SEC to open a new docket to decide the issue of local control and render a decision within 90 days.

They were joined by the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests.

“New Hampshire has a long tradition of home rule,” Jack Savage, spokesman for SPNHF, said Wednesday. “This is who gets to say what the Canadian government and a giant, Connecticut-based corporation get to do in a N.H. town.”

There are communities across N.H., many not current intervenors in Northern Pass, that have a stake in the outcome, he said.

“Towns should not and cannot stand by and allow large out-of-state entities to usurp local control of town roads,” said Ellis. “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.”

The petition was triggered by Eversource Energy, parent company of Northern Pass, presuming to have an answer to the question, one that is in their favor but doesn’t accord with the laws, said Savage.

“It seems pretty clear the Department of Transportation does not have the authority to grant those licenses on town roads and it seems pretty clear the law reserves that for the local community,” he said.

Eversource/Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said, “The overwhelming response we have received to our proposal to bury portions of the project under public roadways has been positive, and the project will submit a formal response to the petition in a timely manner.”

The petitioners seek a ruling stating that SEC under N.H. law does not have the sole authority to issue a permit for portions of the proposed line and support structures that would go across, over or under locally maintained highways and that Northern Pass must obtain permits from the municipalities.

On the timing of the petition, Savage said, “As you sort out and understand all of these issues over time you become aware and have the opportunity to ask specific questions as part of the discovery process.”

Northern Pass has an interpretation that is not contained within the law and the petitioners are now moving quickly to get it addressed by SEC, he said.​

This story, by Robert Blechl, appears here courtesy of the Caledonian Record,