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What Is Northern Pass? Northern Pass is a proposal to run 192 miles of new power lines from Canada, through northern New Hampshire, south to Concord, and then eastward to Deerfield. The project is a collaboration between Eversource (previously known as Public Service of New Hampshire) and Hydro-Quebec, which is owned by the provincial government of Quebec. The utilities say the $1.6 billion Northern Pass project would transport 1,090 megawatts of electricity from Quebec – which derives more than 90 percent of its power from hydroelectric dams – to the New England power grid.The ControversyNorthern Pass has proved an incredibly controversial issue in New Hampshire, especially in the North CountryThe project has generated considerable controversy from the beginning. Despite its statewide impacts, many of the projects most dedicated opponents come from the sparsely-populated and heavily forested North Country.Eversource says the new lines would bring jobs and tax revenue to this struggling part of the state. But opponents of the project say it would mean only temporary jobs for residents when it's under construction. They also say it will deface New Hampshire's forestland, hurting tourism and lowering property values. Depending on the location, developers say the project's towers will range from 85 to 135 feet tall.Polls have consistently found the public remains sharply divided on this issue.Some critics have pushed for the entire project to be buried. Politicians ranging from Sen. Maggie Hassan to former Sen. Kelly Ayotte to 2012 GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich have floated this move as having the potential to soften opposition. Eversource maintains this would be too expensive, and would effectively make the project impossible to pursue. The Route: Real Estate Chess Plays Out In The North Country Northern Pass and its opponents have been fighting over control of land along potential routesNorthern Pass has considered a number of routes for the project, but has publicly announced three. The first, unveiled in 2011, faced major backlash from North Country residents and environmental groups. Over the next couple of years, the project and its primary opponent the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests played a prolonged chess match over parcels of North Country land. Northern Pass ultimately spent more than $40 million purchasing acres of undeveloped land in the North Country. Meanwhile, the Forest Society undertook an aggressive fundraising campaign and sought a slew of conservation easements to block potential routes.This maneuvering narrowed the options for Northern Pass. One lingering possibility was exercising eminent domain. Northern Pass publicly stated it was not interested in pursuing eminent domain. But in 2012, in response to strong statewide opposition, the Legislature closed the option altogether, outlawing the practice except in cases where a new transmission line was needed to maintain the reliability of the electric system.By the spring of 2013, Northern Pass opponents believed the project was essentially "cornered" into trying to route the power line through a large conservation easement, called the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters. The governor at that time, Democrat Maggie Hassan, said she opposed such a move on the part of Northern Pass.Second Time Around: Northern Pass Announces Alternative RouteIn June of 2013, Northern Pass unveiled its second proposed route. Abandoning its previous strategy (and $40 million in land purchases) altogether, the project proposed building along existing state and local North Country roadways in Clarksville and Stewartstown. In a nod to project opponents, Northern Pass also said it will bury 7.5 miles of line in Stewartstown, Clarksville, and under the Connecticut River. That raised the price tag on the project from $1.2 billion as initially proposed to about $1.4 billion. While opponents said this move was progress, many – including the Forest Society – maintained that Northern Pass should be able to bury all 180 miles of power lines.Final Route: Burial through the White Mountains0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8a620000 After years of continued opposition, Northern Pass made its final concession to critics. It downsized the powerline from an initial proposal of 1,200 megawatts to 1,090 to take advantage of a new technology, known as HVDC lite. This move made it more economical to bury portions of the line, and Eversource said it was now willing to bury 52 additional miles of the project. The new route would be alongside state roadways as the project passed through the White Mountain National Forest.While the governor called the change “an important improvement,” she also said “further improvements” to the project should be made. The partial burial did not placate the project’s fiercest opponents, but some speculated that it would help the project clear one significant hurdle: whether it would get approval to use public lands from the top official at the White Mountain National Forest. The move pushed the estimated price tag up again, to $1.6 billion, now for a project that would deliver less power.With its new route in hand, project officials filed to build the project in October of 2015.Before the Site Evaluation CommitteeThe application to state officials was likely the longest and most complicated in the state’s history, and 161 individuals, interest groups, and municipalities asked to be allowed to participate in the process to evaluate the merits of the project.Given the size and complexity of the project, many of the interveners pushed for a longer review than the standard one year that state law dictates. In May of 2016, those groups got their wish, and the decision was pushed back 9 months. The final deadline was set for September of 2017. However, once the proceeding got under way, it was clear that even this delay would not allow time to hear from all of the witnesses called by the various interveners. Early in September of 2017 it was delayed again, with a final decision set for February 2018.DeniedOn February 1st, 2018, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee voted unanimously to deny the permit for Northern Pass, a decision that triggered an appeals process that was taken up by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in late 2018.In May of 2019, the court heard orgal arguments on the appeal.On July 19, 2019, the court issued its ruling. In a unanimous decision, the SEC's rejection of the project was upheld, likely marking the end of Northern Pass as it was proposed.

Tom Wagner: Deciding Whether Northern Pass May Cross The White Mountain National Forest

The decisions on whether the controversial Northern Pass hydro-electric project goes ahead will be made by state and federal agencies. But a single person will make a crucial decision.

That is whether the high-voltage power lines should be allowed to cross the White Mountain National Forest, one of the state’s top tourist attractions and a huge recreational resource.

“I would be the person that would authorize that use on public land.”

That’s Tom Wagner and he is the top official at the White Mountain National Forest.

Wagner’s talking about Northern Pass’s request to use an existing right-of-way so it can cross about 10 miles of the national forest near Kinsman Mountain.

Northern Pass wants to bring hydro-electric power from Canada, running 180 miles through New Hampshire, primarily for use outside the state.

State and federal officials will make the overall decision about whether the Northern Pass project goes ahead.

But working from an unpretentious office at headquarters in Campton Wagner – who has headed up the White Mountain National Forest for about a decade - will decide what happens in the national forest.

For Northern Pass – and its opponents - that’s a key decision.

Public Service of New Hampshire already runs power lines through the national forest and Northern Pass says it will be cheaper and faster to use that same route.

Wagner must decide whether or not that’s in the public interest.

And in this case the definition of public interest goes beyond the forest boundary.

 “Public interest in this one is broader public interest. I have to look at what role does that public land play in the whole purpose and need of what this project is being proposed for.”

In short, Wagner must consider the nation’s energy needs.

He will also consider claims made by Northern Pass about the benefits of the project.

For example Northern Pass says it will help the economy, provide 1,200 construction jobs, tax revenues and be a “reliable source of low-carbon energy.”

Opponents don’t see it that way.

Wagner also has to consider whether there is a reasonable alternative to crossing the national forest.

Northern Pass says it looked at a route outside the national forest and it also considered burying the lines.

It concluded burial would be more disruptive and going outside the national forest would be longer, require buying land or easements and would impact more homes.

But the Conservation Law Foundation’s Christophe Courchesne says Northern Pass’ application didn’t address all the alternatives.

“Primarily we are concerned that the project is being sited there out of convenience and not out of a rational review of what would be the best route or technological alternative.”

The existing right-of-way was approved more than six decades ago and was designed to bring electricity to the North Country.

Opponents of Northern Pass say there is a huge difference between crossing the national forest to electrify homes and the for-profit motive of Hydro-Quebec and Public Service of New Hampshire.

To work through these issues Wagner says he will rely on the conclusions of an environmental impact statement being conducted by a consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy.

 “It is really complicated. So, it has to be based on a really thorough analysis in that environmental impact statement. What are the economic benefits, what are the resource trade-offs, many things.”

Wagner says his staff will be providing information about the impacts on the national forest to the consultants.

Even if the Environmental Impact Statement concludes the project is in the public interest and the Department of Energy approves it, Wagner says he could still turn it down.

One reason would be the White Mountain National Forest Plan, a huge document designed to preserve and protect the forest.

 “I would screen all that against what we say in our forest plan. We have specific standards and guidelines that talk about protection of wetlands, talk about scenic integrity, talk about wildlife habitat, all of those things would need to be factored into my decision and then weigh those against the public interest of power line transmission.”

One of the plan’s goals is a “natural-appearing landscape.”

That forest plan also criticizes the current right-of-way as “a visual intrusion.”

Critics of Northern Pass say that “visual intrusion” would get much worse.

Northern Pass says it will try to minimize the visual impact.

But the current towers are about 52 feet tall.

According to the preliminary design the new, high-voltage towers would be at least twice as tall.

A related issue is construction which will require building some temporary roads and work bases.

It will take place on-and-off over 30 months.

If Wagner ever dealt with such a complicated issue it doesn’t come immediately to mind.

“I mean I have to balance the overall use of the forest for the overall good of current generations and future generations.”

Wagner probably won’t have to deal with Northern Pass for a while.

From a regulatory standpoint the project is on hold while Northern Pass looks for a route through Northern Coos.

But for Northern Pass’ advocates and opponents Tom Wagner’s decision is likely to be his legacy.

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