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When it comes to Northern Pass, opinions abound in DOE report

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 17. 2014 5:38PM

After one round of public hearings in March 2011 and another last July, the U.S. Department of Energy has heard or received 7,560 comments on the Northern Pass, according to a report issued by the DOE that summarizes nearly three years of feedback on the controversial hydroelectric project.

But don’t expect to read impassioned pleas to preserve North Country vistas or anxious testimony over jobs, the economy or the price of energy.

The so-called “scoping report,” released on March 12, slices and dices the data accumulated by the DOE in hearings designed to help it determine the scope of the still-to-come environmental impact statement, but doesn’t quote a word anybody said or wrote.

“This scoping report summarizes the comments received during the public scoping period,” the report states. “It does not present individual comments received, nor does it present responses to the comments.”

The biggest takeaway from the report is that the majority of comments on alternatives focused on burying the lines. “Commenters strongly expressed their desire to understand why this would be cost-prohibitive and gave examples of where this alternative has been employed.”

Other comments suggested the project is not sustainable and that other forms of green energy such as wind should be explored instead, according to the report, which goes on to say, “Still other comments simply supported the ‘no build’ alternative and indicated the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project are extensive.”

Of all comments on alternatives, 36 percent favored burial, while 18 percent favored using other rights of way, particularly along public roadways instead of the existing PSNH rights of way.

The report said that 6,400 unique individuals, businesses, organizations, municipalities and government agencies filed comments, and that most (68 percent) were from New Hampshire. Another 17 percent came from other New England states.

The majority of the comments, more than 4,000, were submitted on the EIS project website, Another 2,489 came via letter, with 543 by fax. Hearings held in seven New Hampshire communities in 2011 and four in 2013 resulted in 219 oral comments. All comments can be read in their entirety on the Northern Pass EIS website.

Northern Pass developers welcomed the scoping report as another milestone in the lengthy review process. “The scoping report is straightforward, and its issuance seems to indicate that the permitting process is on schedule,” said Lauren Collins, a Northern Pass spokesperson. “We expect the DOE will issue its Draft Environmental Impact Statement later this year.”

Opponents of the project point to the fact that the comments are heavily tilted toward burying the line, if it has to be built at all.

“The concern expressed over Northern Pass as proposed just cannot be ignored,” said Jack Savage, spokesperson for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. “Add to that the preponderance of comments favoring a burial option — which is clearly viable — and it would seem that the only chance Northern Pass might have to be permitted is to go underground.”

Jim Dannis, a North Country resident and member of Responsible Energy Action, said the report does not do justice to the hundreds of people who took the time to write or testify.

“What a useless document,” he posted on the N.H. Public Radio website. “The DOE summary converts unprecedented public outrage and powerful, detailed anti-project policy arguments into nothing more than bland categorization. Even the categorization is half-hearted, sloppy and grossly oversimplified.”

The period for public comment on the draft environmental impact statement will open for at least 45 days, and include at least one public hearing, after the draft is released later this

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