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Conservation group closes deal aimed at Northern Pass

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 17. 2012 7:18PM

CONCORD - The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has closed the deal on the first conservation easement intended to block the controversial Northern Pass power line project.

Since August, the organization has been raising money for its "Trees Not Towers" campaign to impede the anticipated route of transmission lines designed to bring hydro power from Quebec through New Hampshire and into the New England power grid.

At a press conference in August, the conservation group identified the parcels in Stewartstown and Columbia targeted for its "blocking actions," and announced a goal of $2.5 million.

One of those parcels was 530 acres owned by Green Acre Woodlands, a registered tree farm with land that slopes upward to an elevation of approximately 2,170 feet in Stewartstown. The society announced in the fall that it had a purchase-and-sales agreement on the property.

Savage confirmed news reports that the society paid $600,000 for a conservation easement that precludes any development on the Green Acres property.

The closing last week concludes the first of five purchases the society believes are necessary to force consideration of alternatives by Northern Pass, such as burying the transmission lines along existing transportation corridors.

Northern Pass spokesmen told the New Hampshire Union Leader earlier in the month that it hoped to be in a position to announce a new route for the project by the end of the year. Despite last week's closing on the Green Acre property, Northern Pass officials are standing by that prediction.

"Any discussion of route location, properties involved, or impacts is pure speculation by the Forest Society and not based in fact," Michael Skelton, spokesman for PSNH and Northeast Utilities, said in an email. "As we've said before, we've continued to make significant progress by working with willing landowners, and we are optimistic that we will secure the land we need for the new route by the end of the year."

Savage said if Northern Pass reschedules the route announcement, it won't be the first time.

"They've done this several times," Savage said. "They stated they would be announcing a route by the end of this year. Last May, it was going to be in August. Over the summer, it was September."

The $1.2 billion project would feed 1,200 megawatts of electricity into New England along 140 miles of existing rights of way. Attention by opponents has been focused on a 40-mile corridor in the North Country needed to fill a gap in the project's path.

"The Green Acre Woodlands parcel is a strategic part of our efforts to compel Hydro-Quebec, Northeast Utilities and PSNH to look at other viable options for their private transmission line," said Jane Difley, president of the Forest Society.

Savage said the society has raised about half of the $2.5 million needed to purchase the parcels it has identified, and will be working throughout the winter to bring them to a closing.

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