COLEBROOK — The Colebrook Elementary School gymnasium was once again a sea of hunter orange Thursday night as 250 people, most wearing the signature Northern Pass opposition color, attended the fourth and final U.S. Department of Energy scoping meeting for the transmission line's application to enter the country from Canada.
An orange-clad crowd turned out for the first round of scoping meetings two years ago, when the Northeast Utilities-owned Northern Pass, LLC applied for a permit under its original route proposal. This second gathering of public input follows the company's amended application under a new route proposal submitted in June, seeking to bring power generated by HydroQuebec via a direct-current transmission line through the North Country on its way to southern New England.
Coos County Commissioner Rick Samson of Stewartstown presented the DOE officials with orange ball caps bearing the word "no," and said, "If you should come back in another two years, the economy should have improved, and we'll give you some jackets."
Jack Savage of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests brought a large gift bag full of comment cards, collected over the past week and bearing the names and addresses of 1,100 people opposing the Northern Pass proposal.
He ceremoniously emptied the bag onto the table in front of DOE senior planning adviser Brian Mills, then followed up by placing the 22 supporting comment cards on the table in a neat stack.
"That's a 50-1 ratio, by the way," Savage said.
Also speaking against the project were state Rep. Larry Rappaport, R-Colebrook, the author of the law prohibiting the use of eminent domain for utility projects, and fellow House member Howard Moffett, D-Canterbury, who said he was in attendance "to show support for those of you who have fought this line as it is proposed."
Both legislators spoke in favor of burying the transmission line under existing travel corridors.
"They can put these things six feet underground, where no one is going to be bothered by it," Moffett said, pointing to similar lines being buried in Vermont and Maine. "Northern Pass says it's too expensive — don't believe it. Stick to your guns."
Pittsburg resident Cindy-Lou Amey, who also spoke at the 2011 scoping meeting, asked, "Were we not clear, not united in our position against this project? Why are we doing this again?"
She likened Northern Pass to a child who "asks to be granted something they should not have," and who upon being refused "will come back and suggest amendments, compromises and conditional assurances." There comes a time, Amey said, "when you tell the child, enough — you've had your chance to make your case, and you've failed. Now go spend your energy doing what you know is the right thing to do."
A dozen or so supporters were on hand wearing blue T-shirts and hats.
Mark Armstrong, a forester for Wagner Forest Management, was careful to note that he was expressing his own, personal opinions.
"The rock solid, reliable power grid we enjoy here didn't just magically appear," he said. "We will need this power. During these past decades, wealthy non-profit, phony environmentalist racketeers have successfully blocked any new construction of hydro-electric or nuclear facilities, which by this time could have already been providing low-cost, base-load power to this country, right here in this country."
The scoping meetings constitute the first step in obtaining a Presidential Permit, which would allow the transmission line to cross the border. The DOE's Mills pointed out that the permit "does not authorize Northern Pass to build the line; the state of New Hampshire controls that process."
The deadline to submit comments is Nov. 5, after which the DOE will issue a scoping report, then begin the project's environmental impact statement.
Comments may be posted online at www.northernpasseis.us/comment; by e-mail to Brian.Mills@hq.doe.gov; or by post to his attention at the U.S. DOE, 1000 Independence Ave. SW, Washington DC 20585.