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August 19. 2013 9:25PM

Northern Pass pledges $7.5 million for North Country jobs

Northern Pass officials announced plans for a $7.5 million North Country job creation fund for Coos County Monday, with the money contingent on the controversial project receiving federal and state permits.

"We are looking forward to helping the community help itself," said Gary Long, president of New Hampshire Renewable Energy Policy Development at Northeast Utilities.

Long said an advisory group of business leaders and elected officials would be formed, with up to $200,000 from Northern Pass to establish the fund. After Northern Pass is granted federal and state permits and construction begins, $1 million would go to the fund, with $500,000 added each year.

Long said that any jobs created will be in addition to the estimated 1,200 jobs related to the construction of the 180-mile-long line from the Canadian border to Deerfield, which would bring hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England grid.

Retired state senator John Gallus of Berlin called the fund a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" and said he was "thrilled to hear the fund will be administered by local citizens and business leaders."

Allen Bouthillier of A.B. Logging also spoke to the approximately 40 company representatives, local officials, businesspeople and media gathered at his Lancaster logging business.

"We want to see people stay here and work here and thrive," Bouthillier said. "This fund is a way to train the people so they can work and stay here. (The fund) will make sure jobs that are created are a good fit for the communities and help the people who live here."

Questioned on whether critics would consider the fund a way to drum up support for the controversial project, Long said he "learned a long time ago that you can't buy support. This is about creating jobs."

Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, disagreed.

"Northern Pass is finding it necessary to suggest this fund because their overall transmission line proposal has little or no inherent public benefit," he said. "It's clear this money comes with wires attached. We have said from the beginning that scenic landscapes of New Hampshire should not be for sale at any price, and we believe most people in the state share that view."

Long said the advisory group will "shy away" from studies and focus on efforts in the areas of training and infrastructure. When asked what would happen if the group said it wanted to focus on tourism and marketing, he said there would be no conflict.

"If they want to spend it on tourism and if it can create jobs, why not," he said. "We're not putting any limits on how the community wants to spend, as long as it's something that takes action."

Northern Pass officials unveiled a new route at the end of June for the $1.4 billion project, and have hosted three open houses to present the proposal to the public. A fourth is scheduled for tonight in Pittsburg and Wednesday in Groveton.

The Federal Register also published the official notice that the application for a presidential permit for the project has been filed by the U.S. Department of Energy. Comments or requests to intervene are due on Sept. 18. The next step for the DOE will be to announce the dates of public hearings.



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