Forest Society Challenges Northern Pass on Property Rights

Attorneys file lawsuit in Coos Superior Court, Motion at NH SEC

November 19, 2015

The Forest Society owns land under and on both sides of Route 3 in Clarksville, as well as under the Connecticut River, where Northern Pass proposes to build its private transmission line.

CONCORD, NH, Nov. 19, 2015--The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (Forest Society) took dual actions today to defend its conserved lands against Northern Pass, which has filed an application to build portions of a private transmission facility on Forest Society lands.

"The Forest Society has a legal and ethical obligation to defend our conserved lands against commercial development such as Northern Pass," said Jane Difley, President/Forester of the Forest Society. "Northern Pass cannot show that it has the property rights it would need to build the facility it is looking to permit through the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC). Nor does Northern Pass, as a merchant transmission project, have the ability to use any form of eminent domain to acquire those rights."

Today, Tom Masland and the lawyers at Ransmeier & Spellman, P.C., and Amy Manzelli and Jason Reimers of BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC, representing the Forest Society, took action in both Coos County Superior Court and at the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), respectively.

In Coos County Superior Court, the Forest Society filed a lawsuit against Northern Pass, citing its application to the SEC as an improper attempt to make use of lands the Forest Society owns. The Forest Society has asked the court for a declaratory judgement to find and rule that Northern Pass’s proposed use of that land, known as the Washburn Family Forest, is unauthorized.

"Northern Pass is a private entity seeking to make use of Forest Society lands for the exclusive use of Hydro-Quebec," said Masland. "It is our strongly held view that they cannot do so without the Forest Society’s permission."

The lawsuit also asks the Court to issue a permanent injunction preventing Northern Pass from taking any action relative to the Washburn Property regarding their proposed transmission line without the Forest Society’s permission.

The Forest Society also called on the SEC to declare the application filed by Northern Pass Transmission on October 19 incomplete, because the applicant cannot show that it has the property rights necessary to build the project and the SEC has no authorization to grant such rights.

"To go forward on the Northern Pass SEC application before addressing property rights issues would be a monumental waste of time," said Manzelli. "Northern Pass could not build its project without adequate property rights even if a permit was granted, and the SEC itself cannot resolve the property rights issues the Forest Society is contesting.”

"Without eminent domain, it is unclear how Northern Pass could build the facility described in its application without our permission," Difley said. "And given that they are proposing to use our land to facilitate miles of overhead line where there are no transmission towers today, we aren’t likely to let them dig in our dirt.”

“While these specific property rights issues are of paramount importance to the Forest Society, we believe that the principles behind them are of interest to every landowner in New Hampshire,” Difley added.

The Forest Society has called on Northern Pass to bury its proposed transmission line entirely along appropriate transportation corridors. The current Northern Pass proposal buries only one-third of 192 miles through New Hampshire.

The Forest Society also filed a Motion to Intervene on the Northern Pass application with the SEC. 

The Forest Society is a private, non-profit land trust and forestry organization established in 1901. It currently holds some 800 conservation easements statewide permanently protecting more than 130,000 acres of New Hampshire’s landscapes. The Forest Society also owns 180 forest reservations constituting more than 54,000 acres in more than 100 New Hampshire communities.