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Northern Pass divides crowd



Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
As she stood behind the podium on the wooden stage in Franklin City Hall during last night's public hearing on the Northern Pass hydroelectricity project, Denise Thibeault gave a nervous smile, then confessed: "I feel like a Yankee in Fenway Park."

The west Franklin resident came to the Department of Energy's meeting to oppose the plan, which she said would slice through two of her properties. And while the standing-room-only crowd that filled the old opera house didn't express even a fraction of the vitriol Red Sox fans unleash at the sight of pinstripes, she was addressing an audience divided.

Unlike the first meeting the department held in Pembroke on Monday night, where strong opposition dominated the discourse, the hearing in Franklin seemed to have at least as many supporters as detractors. Many who spoke in favor of the project were from Franklin, where a $250 million converter station is planned. Proponents said that the city is struggling economically and could use the boost to the tax base.

"Teachers are losing their jobs, aides are losing their jobs, and their hours are getting cut back," Franklin resident George Dzujna said. "Economical benefit could come not only to Franklin, but to the surrounding towns that this is going to affect."

The comments of both Dzujna and Thibeault were met with applause, as were all of the speakers' at the meeting, which stayed polite despite the rift in opinions.

Franklin was the site of the second of seven total meetings that the Department of Energy is holding as part of its environmental impact statement for the Northern Pass project. The project would bring as much as 1,200 megawatts of hyroelectricity from the Canadian border to a converter station in Franklin and then to Deerfield, where it would enter the regional power grid. It would require about 180 miles of high-voltage transmission wires, with 40 of those miles being new right-of-way through the northern part of the state.

While the meeting was civil, emotions still ran high.

"This is the opportunity for the northeastern part of the U.S. to take charge of its economy and its surroundings," Danielle Barker of Franklin said before asking others if they wanted to preserve their views and property values or be part of helping create green energy.

"If you answer the former," she said "You are a selfish New Hampshire resident who only wants to flood the good intentions of this project."

David Dobbins, a North Country resident who spoke at Monday's meeting as well, addressed the Franklin residents in the crowd, asserting that Northern Pass chose Franklin as the site of the converter station because other, wealthier towns would've opposed such a project, which he said will make potential residents and businesses shy away from the area.

"What kind of branding is that for the future of Franklin?" Dobbins said.

Other North Country opponents came with the same message. One warned Franklin residents not to believe they can get something for nothing from Northern Pass and conjured an image of an unsuspecting trout going after a fly that ends up attached to a fisherman's hook.

No accord was struck between those for or against the project, but Franklin resident and state representative Leigh Webb offered the department this philosophical rubric by which to measure the comments: "The greater good must take precedence over objections by even the most vocal of individual or groups."

(Tara Ballenger can be reached at 369-3306 or tballenger@cmonitor.com.)