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March 12. 2013 10:04PM

DOE hears from NH Sens. Shaheen, Ayotte on Northern Pass project

New Hampshire's two U.S. senators have co-signed a letter to the Department of Energy raising concerns about the work of DOE contractors in Grafton County on behalf of Northern Pass.

In late February, landowners in communities near the White Mountain National Forest noticed wildlife biologists working for the DOE conducting research along Public Service of New Hampshire rights of way for existing power lines. They learned the work was part of the environmental impact statement for the Northern Pass project, which would bring hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England power grid through New Hampshire.

Many of those landowners oppose the project, and asked the wildlife biologists to leave their land, which they did. The landowners believe the rights of way on their land that PSNH enjoys for existing power lines cannot be transferred to Northern Pass for larger power lines without some regulatory or judicial process.

PSNH argues that its rights of way allow it to assign access to Northern Pass to conduct research for the environmental impact statement.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte weighed in on the issue in a March 11 letter to Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability in the Department of Energy.

"It is unclear whether an assignment of any such property rights by PSNH to Northern Pass, a completely different corporate entity, is subject to official approval by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission," they wrote. "Our constituents have also inquired about whether conducting research and data collection in support of the project is appropriate at this juncture, given that Northern Pass does not currently have an active Presidential Permit application pending before DOE that identifies the proposed route."

Niketa Kumar, a spokesperson for the DOE, said the wildlife biologists from a firm called Ecology and Environment have not been called off the job because of the landowner protests, but they have been told to honor any requests by landowners to leave their land, without protest.

"The Department of Energy takes very seriously its responsibility to conduct a thorough and open review of Northern Pass' permit application," she wrote in an e-mail. "In preparation of the draft environmental impact statement, the department's contractor is conducting field research and scientific data collection along the project's proposed southern route. The department is aware of concerns raised by some individuals in the area. Throughout the process, the department will continue to work with all stakeholders and ensure that this work is respectful of local communities and is conducted on lands that are open to the public or for which the department has received authorization."

Mike Skelton, a spokesman for Northern Pass, said the work is necessary while there is snow on the ground because much of it involves tracking wildlife in the region.

Shaheen and Ayotte are calling for more explanation than that.

"These concerns are raised by New Hampshire stakeholders who would be directly affected by the Northern Pass project," they wrote. "We are sure you will agree that they illustrate the need for DOE to provide clear guidance and reasoning for any actions the agency and its contractors take related to this application process."

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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