Rare Breed: A North Country Politician Favoring Northern Pass

Sep 26, 2013

A group of Northern Pass supporters, wearing green and blue, stood at the rear of the meeting room at the Mountain View Grand. Opponents of the project often wear orange.
Credit Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

Paul Grenier, the mayor of Berlin, one of three Coos Country Commissioners and an advocate of the Northern Pass was a lonely guy Wednesday evening at the U.S. Department of Energy’s third public hearing on the project.

Grenier walked through a sea of orange to reach the podium.

There were about 350 people gathered at the Mountain View Grand Resort and most wore orange, a symbol of their opposition to Northern Pass.

Grenier was not wearing orange.

Among North Country politicians he was a lonely champion of the controversial project, which does not go near his hometown of Berlin.

He said the changed route has significantly reduced “view impacts” on Northern Coos County.

Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

And, he said, the new tax revenue will be an enormous help funding public services and reducing the tax burden on citizens.

“Northern Pass is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he told the group.

About a dozen other North Country politicians strongly disagreed.

Executive Councilor Ray Burton said the transmission towers would mar the scenery and hurt the tourism.

“It is time for this project, Public Service Company, Hydro-Quebec to fold their tent, go home and leave us alone,” said Burton.

And Democrat State Rep. Linda Lauer, of Bath, worried that new tax revenues would be offset by the loss of residential property values.

“Now if they put 125-foot towers in front of my house, I guarantee you I am going to ask for a reduction in property values,” she said.

She also noted utilities, including Public Service of New Hampshire, often challenge towns, trying to reduce its property taxes.

That was also a concern mentioned by Berlin’s Grenier who said “it is critical that residents and taxpayers have assurances that the Northern Pass tax revenues will remain stable for the next twenty years.”

While Northern Pass says the project will provide about 1,200 construction jobs over several years, speakers said that was a temporary benefit more than offset by what they see as the downsides to a project that has nothing meaningful to offer long term.

“Hydro-Quebec would serve as the electrical outlet. Southern New England as the user and New Hampshire as the extension cord connecting the two,” said Republican State Rep. Brad Bailey of  Monroe.

Dismay at Northern Pass’ request to follow an existing right of way through the White Mountain National Forest and the need to bury the lines were themes at the meeting.

“It is not that we can’t bury these lines it is that we won’t even discuss it,” said Democrat State Rep. Susan Ford of Easton.

Northern Pass has said burying the lines is too expensive or impractical but it has yet to provide an analysis showing it has been studied.

Earlier this year Hydro-Quebec declined to send officials to attend a meeting of a state legislative committee looking at the issue of burying such power lines.

The final hearing is Thursday night from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Colebrook elementary school.

Federal officials listening to comments were, from left, David Keddell of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tom Wagner, supervisor of The White Mountain National Forest and Brian Mills of the Department of Energy.
Credit Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR