Eversource bought thousands of acres in the North Country for Northern Pass. Who owns all that land now?
For years, Eversource bought up thousands of acres in the North Country for its failed Northern Pass project. The state’s largest utility announced earlier this year that it would give away a lot of that land, resulting in the transfer of most of those acres to two private companies.
NHPR’s Rick Ganley spoke with Paula Tracy, a reporter for InDepthNH, who’s been digging into questions arising from Eversource’s land giveaway.
Eversource announced earlier this year that it would be giving away a lot of that land. Where did it go?
Well, about 15 of the parcels were given to the owners of Bear Rock Adventures. It's an OHRV company near Coleman State Park. And then the majority of it, 4,250 acres of it, went to a mystery owner named Dead Water LLC. It's managed by Wagner Forest Management of Lyme.
So tell us more about these for profit companies. Let's start with Dead Water. Who are they? What do we know of them and what have they said they want to do with this land?
Well, that's a big mystery. On June 4, an LLC was created in Delaware named Dead Water LLC, and they gave as the contact person Wagner Forest Management. Dave Hudnut, who is president of Wagner, said that he could not explain who the owners were, saying they don't discuss clients. And Bill Hinkle from Eversource also said that they could not provide any more information than what was legally given. But Hudnut did say that the primary use will be for sustainable harvest management, but he said they don't own it. They have 2 million acres under management and not a single acre is owned by Wagner.
Now the other company you mentioned, Bear Rock Adventures, they've been a little more forthright about their plans. What kinds of development could folks in Coos County expect to see from them?
Corrine Rober, who is the co-owner of Bear Rock, said she expects to develop overnight accommodations on the tracts. There's about nine structures on those tracts, and they're just outside Coleman State Park. And it could logically be where they would create like overnight glamping, where you can just pull your trailer in and connect it to the OHRV trail system. That's what makes the property valuable. So she's basically saying that they've been good friends with Eversource for a long time and that she's also been a leading member of the movement to draw OHRV users to the region for tourism.
Now, these are two for profit entities, as we've said, that received the majority of this land from Eversource for free. What about the people who sold their land or the local communities? Did they have the opportunity to recoup any of this land?
Of the 92 properties, only three were returned to the original owner, and none of the towns got any info. There were two state entities, the Fish and Game Department and the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, and they said that they were given a heads up just immediately before the sales, but they were not offered an option to buy. North Country residents say there was no discussion with them in some cases where they had a verbal agreement to get the land back or be offered it for sale if Northern Pass didn't use it. And this one particular hay farmer I spoke to, [Roger] Sylvestre, he felt that his verbal agreement should have been honored. He had 320 acres, which is now assessed at about $240,000. But he sold it for $5 million and his neighbor held out for $4 million for 42 acres.
Okay. That's a pretty big payday. And, you know, some might push back and say, hey, these folks sold the land, some of them, as you said, making millions. Eversource should be allowed to give it away to whoever they want. They own it. What does it matter who owns the land next?
Well, there's still large questions with that kind of size of land ownership and a question mark as to what their real plans are and what the impacts might be, as you imagine, if you're an abutter. You know, absolutely. Eversource stockholders spent $350 million on this -- what people would call boondoggle -- and they had to write it all off. So they should be able to do what they want and just give it away. But some are concerned that this Dead Water LLC tract could someday be developed and what that may or may not do to values and properties and impacts to the region.