A state senator who opposes Northern Pass said a $7.5 million job creation fund for Coos County is a step in the right direction, while a vocal opponent scoffed at the offer, which Northern Pass announced on Monday.
Northern Pass said it will provide $200,000 in seed money to launch the fund, and then make contributions totalling $7.5 million over 15 years if the project is built. Northern Pass wants to build a $1.4 billion transmission line through northern and central New Hampshire, a line that has drawn continued criticism from many North Country residents.
"This is a business proposal, so we discount entirely the idea that Northern Pass is trying to do something nice," said Jim Dannis, a resident of Dalton and member of Responsible Energy Action, which opposes the line.
"It boggles our minds they're putting up charity money and they're making it conditional on approval of a permit," he said.
Martin Murray, a spokesman for Northern Pass, said businesses often contribute to charity and community development efforts, but only after first generating revenues.
"Northern Pass is no different," he said. "While the professional Northern Pass opponents do not seem to understand this simple concept, the North Country business leaders, political leaders and citizens that we have spoken with do."
Under the proposal announced Monday, Northern Pass will contribute $1 million to the job creation fund once federal and state permits are in hand and construction starts. It will contribute $500,000 a year toward the fund after that.
An advisory group will soon be formed, made up of business leaders and elected officials. The group would decide what job creation efforts would be funded, and at what amounts, according to a statement issued Monday by Northern Pass.
But Murray said the advisory panel could very well establish a different way to distribute the money. He said Northern Pass would not have a veto over advisory committee members or the projects. But he said the company does not want money spent on studies.
"This is a positive step," said state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, who opposes Northern Pass. "Like the new route, it is a movement in the right direction, but it is far from where we need to be."
He said the job fund gives him encouragement that burial of the line is possible.
Murray said Northern Pass has consulted with North Country leaders for months about the region's needs. The overwhelming response was jobs. He said Northern Pass announced the details of the job fund as soon as details were worked out.
Murray acknowledged that the job creation fund will likely be included in a list of benefits that Northern Pass provides to regulators, such as the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.
"We don't believe you can in any way buy support through an effort like this," Murray said.
Executive Council Ray Burton, an early opponent of Northern Pass, said the North Country deeply opposes the project. He thinks the job creation fund will have little bearing on people's thoughts about the project.
"I would not serve on any panel that distributes that type of money," he said. But that didn't stop him from suggesting a possible use for the fund: The Balsams Resort Hotel, which is undergoing restoration.
Both U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, opposed the original Northern Pass route but have left their options open on the alternative route announced last month.
On Tuesday, Ayotte said she did not believe the job fund would influence the federal approval process.