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State committee starts deliberations on Northern Pass

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 30. 2018 1:25PM
A full house listens on the first day of deliberations for the Northern Pass project in Concord on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — Early agreement and lots of questions.

The state Site Evaluation Committee kicked off its first day of deliberations on Northern Pass Tuesday by reaching a consensus that the project met the first of four requirements to secure a required approval to build the 192-mile transmission line.

But some committee members expressed concerns about Northern Pass managing the construction — and getting the details right. And whether the committee should require more state monitoring, if approved.

“I would find that they have the ability to do it, but I would make them slow the process down a little bit and report maybe back to us even,” said Kate Bailey, who also serves on the state Public Utilities Commission.

If approved, construction would start this year.

The $1.6 billion project would transmit hydroelectric power from Quebec into New England. The line would go in service by late 2020. The route runs through more than 30 communities from Pittsburg to Deerfield and includes 60 miles of buried lines. 

“What I’m concerned about is experience that I’ve had on other big projects where there’s an absolute rush to get something finished and the details slip away to get the job accomplished in the right amount of time,” Bailey said.

“I don’t think that’s what should happen. I think that they need to take the time to get it right,” she said.

Opponents, in orange, and supporters of Northern Pass monitored the progress of the Site Evaluation Committee's first day of deliberations over whether to approve the 192-mile transmission line in Concord on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Bill Quinlan, Eversource New Hampshire president, said construction could start as soon as April, but he wouldn’t comment on Bailey’s remarks or on what conditions the committee might impose.

“We will evaluate the conditions if and when they’re imposed and assess them and determine whether they have a material impact on our ability to construct the project if you will,” Quinlan told reporters.

Without citing specific areas, committee Chairman Martin Honigberg said: “There are particular construction areas that, I think, present huge challenges.”

Jack Savage, a project foe with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said during a break that the committee has been “identifying the holes in Northern Pass’ application.”

The committee has scheduled 12 days of deliberations that run through Feb. 23.

Committee members reached a general consensus that Eversource had adequate financial, technical and managerial capability to assure construction and operation.

The committee’s other three criteria to consider: the project will serve the public interest; will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety; and will not unduly interfere with the region’s orderly development.

Talk later turned to downtown Plymouth, where work on Northern Pass as well as unrelated water and sewer upgrades could happen over two construction seasons. Dozens of businesses wrote messages warning of financial harm. Northern Pass has proposed a fund to reimburse businesses that can show proof of sales loss during construction.

“Businesses owners tend to know their customers and business owners tend to know the tolerance of their customers for change,” said committee member Christopher Way, who works at the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

Fellow member Bill Oldenburg, who works at the state Department of Transportation, said he expects downtown would be affected.

“(Given) the amount of work that they have to do, the time it takes, I’d have to believe it’s going to have some effect on people visiting downtown Plymouth and going into those businesses,” Oldenburg said.

An overflow crowd — with dozens wearing coordinated T-shirts either supporting or opposing Northern Pass — greeted the committee.

Pat Harrison, an electric lineman from Raymond, donned a blue pro-Northern Pass T-shirt and said he hoped to get hired for the project. He said the committee was wading through issues carefully “to make sure nothing’s going to bite them later on.”

Bow resident Carol Clark, who donned an orange anti-Northern Pass shirt, said she believed the project would harm property values.

“It will forever scar New Hampshire,” Clark said.

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