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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.

A New Battle: Review Of Historical Impact On Northern Pass Begins

On a spring day Nigel Manley, the manager of The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, stands on a little knoll and admires the view.

“The Presidential Range. Today snow-covered and absolutely beautiful,” he says.

But this scene could become a new front in the battle opponents of Northern Pass are waging.

The reason is that federal officials are getting ready to explore whether the visual impact or construction of Northern Pass will harm any of the state’s historical sites, which includes The Rocks.

The Rocks Estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, described as “one of the best preserved of the numerous grand private estates that appeared in New Hampshire during the late nineteenth century.”

Its location was chosen for its view and that’s the concern.

Manley points out an existing right of way for Public Service of New Hampshire. Its towers run through the lower third of the view.

It is part of the route Northern Pass wants to use for its new towers. They’ll be significantly taller, designed to carry hydro-electric power from Canada the length of the state.

Manley says it would be a high-rise “scar” that would disappoint busloads of tourists from Europe and Asia who come to see The Rocks.

That’s why the owner of The Rocks, The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, is planning to protest the impact, using Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

That requires the Department of Energy to consider historical impacts as part of its decision whether to give Northern Pass the Presidential Permit needed to bring hydro-electric power from Canada.

There is a lot to consider in New Hampshire, says Elizabeth Muzzey, the director of the state’s Division of Historical Resources, which will play a key role.

“In New Hampshire we have incredibly diverse resources, everything from a typical house built in the 1800s that pops up first in a lot of people’s minds, town halls are another one,” she says. “We have landscapes, we have archaeological sites, we have engineering structures.”

The review must consider sites that have the potential to be on the National Register but are not yet listed, says Patrick Parenteau, a professor specializing in Environmental Law at the Vermont Law School.

“The law reaches out and protects even eligible properties,” he says.

Muzzey notes the law encourages interested people, groups and towns to get involved and share historic concerns.

They can do that by seeking what’s called consulting party status from the U.S. Department of Energy.

One group that wants to be involved is The New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs.

“For Native Americans it is very important to us to be able to preserve our sacred places and our historic sites,” says Sherry Gould, its chairperson.

The Appalachian Mountain Club also wants to be involved, citing its concern over the Appalachian Trail, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

And the number of requests may increase.

Responsible Energy Action LLC, a website for opponents of Northern Pass, is urging towns and citizens to seek consulting-party status if they feel any historic buildings or features could be affected.

Northern Pass hasn’t yet disclosed its long-promised new route through Northern Coos County.

So, the historic review will begin by focusing on the 140 miles expected to follow existing rights of way owned by PSNH.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Muzzey’s Division of Historical Resources have worked out some guidelines for how big an area will be considered.

For example researchers will consider the visual impact on historic properties for one mile on either side of the rights of way.

But that could be farther “due to local topographic and historic factors.”

It will also consider the impact of construction, including access roads.

In a March 26 letter a lawyer for Northern Pass told the Department of Energy she was concerned about the scope of the review being too large. She described the plan as “burdensome and time-consuming.”

And, she said, when route is complete they may try to limit the scope of the review.

Michael Skelton, a spokesman for Northern Pass and Public Service of New Hampshire, had no additional comment.

That review will be conducted by teams chosen by the Department of Energy and paid by Northern Pass.

However, their work will be reviewed by Muzzey’s Division of Historical Resources and State Archeologist Richard Boisvert.

This review isn’t something that would stop the Northern Pass project, says Parenteau, the environmental law professor.

“It wouldn’t be a roadblock. It wouldn’t be the kind of statute that says you simply can’t build the project,” he says.

But it could force Northern Pass to change a part of a route and it could cost Northern Pass time and money.

If it isn’t carried out properly it could result in a lawsuit, he says.

“There are many cases on the books where projects have been stopped because of failure to comply with the Historic Preservation Act,” he notes.

Northern Pass opponents say they’re upset that the the Department of Energy didn’t announce the historical review was beginning.

Northern Pass opponents have complained previously that the federal agency is not being transparent in its dealings.

A blogger for the Responsible Energy Action LLC website disclosed the review after finding letters between the agency and state officials filed on the DOE website.

Niketa Kumar, a spokeswoman for the DOE, didn’t directly respond to a question when asked why the opening of the Section 106 review wasn’t posted on the Department of Energy website.

But she did note the review is in its early stages and the Department of Energy “is committed to ensuring that each of these steps is fully met and is working closely with the New Hampshire Division of Historic Resources throughout the process.”

It isn’t clear when the fieldwork will begin.

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