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North Country
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.

An Unusual Challenge In The North Country

Judd Samson Photo_0.jpg
Chris Jensen for NHPR
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An unusual and important race in the North County will be decided on Tuesday.

It’s the political future of Bing Judd, a longtime Coos County Commissioner and one of the best-known figures in the region.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

For the first time in more than a decade Coos County Commissioner Burnham “Bing” Judd is being challenged for the commissioner’s spot he’s held since being appointed by a court in 1997.

Judd is 79 years-old and lives in the northernmost part of the county in Pittsburg. He hardly pauses after being asked about the lack of opposition over all those years.

“Must be people have been happy. Satisfied.”

One person who isn’t satisfied – and is betting he is not alone - is another Republican, Rick Samson of Stewartstown.

Samson is 66 years-old, a former Wausau mill worker, veteran of 26 years in the National Guard and active opponent of the Northern Pass hydro-electric project.

And since there is no Democratic opponent the Republican winner of Tuesday’s primary will have the commissioner’s job.

Judd is one of three commissioners who share the job of managing a county of about 33,000 people with an annual budget around $31 million.

Coos is strong in scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.

But Judd says there is no doubt about Coos’ biggest challenge.

“Create some jobs. And I don’t know at this point what.”

Samson says Judd and the other commissioners haven’t been resourceful and focused on new ways to bring jobs to the areas around Groveton, Colebrook and Pittsburg.

I think they have more or less been caught in a mindset of the last ten or fifteen years and I don’t think they have explored options, I don’t think they have talked to the residents.”

However, Samson doesn’t have any specific ideas for boosting the economy.

But he says he would seek advice from Coos residents and consider their opinions on all issues, something he asserts Judd does not do.

“I don’t think the job of any politician, be it on the national or state level, is to dictate what they think is best. I think what they need to ask the people: ‘What do you think we need? What do you think is best?”

Within the limits of civility Judd probably couldn’t object more strongly.

“That’s the biggest lie that ever was.”

Judd says public hearings and meetings are held throughout the county and rarely does anyone show up.

 “We three commissioners work together and we love to hear from the public.“

But Judd says sometimes financial limits mean the commissioners can’t always do what people want.

However, Samson says when some of the county’s biggest issues have been decided that public input hasn’t been part of the deal.

In 2008 Samson notes Judd and the two other commissioners made a deal with a wind turbine developer. The deal allowed the developer to make fixed payments to the county instead of taxes.

That decision was before a series of public hearings during which considerable opposition to the wind farm was voiced.

Judd says that deal wasn’t final until it was approved by the Coos County delegation which is made up of state legislators from Coos.

“It was a tentative contract.”

Judd also says he’s proud of the deal for the wind farm which is bringing money to the county.

But Samson contends those payments of $495,000 a year for a decade are too little and shortchanged taxpayers.

Judd says he is proud of helping bring the wind project to Coos.

Judd’s tenure has seen some controversy.

A year later – in 2009 – he and the two other commissioners were criticized for refusing to sign a grant application for about $3 million in federal stimulus money for the New Hampshire Grand tourism project.

Judd denied assertions that the commissioners were angry because commissioner Tom Brady’s family business – Six Gun City – was seen as not being good enough to be listed among the New Hampshire Grand attractions.

Judd said the trio hadn’t had enough time to consider the idea and taxpayer funds - even from the federal government - shouldn't be wasted.

But in 2012 the hottest issue in Coos is the Northern Pass hydro-electric project.

Samson has worked against it.

Judd says he is “totally” against eminent domain.

But he declines to say if he is for or against Northern Pass.

He says he sees good things and bad things about it.

“There’s millions of dollars if it goes through for Coos County. That’s a good thing. And, the bad thing, depending on what the route is.”

But people who chose to sell land to Northern Pass shouldn’t be criticized, he says.

Judd says he deserves another term. He says he’s been able to get things down in the county. In the last few years he says he is proudest of adding a sunroom to the county nursing home in West Stewartstown.

Before the only view residents had was from the windows in their rooms, he says.

He says he really isn’t sure whether he’ll win another term.

“It’s the people’s choice. If they want him, it is no great – it would be a loss to me, yes. But power to him if he gets it.”

Meanwhile Samson promises to seek advice from residents and be open to new ideas and opinions and he’s hoping Coos voters see it that way on Tuesday.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen

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