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Franklin to hire lobbyist on Northern Pass issues

The city of Franklin will be hiring a lobbyist this legislative session to represent its interests related to the Northern Pass project.

“Obviously the Northern Pass is something that is very important to the future of Franklin, and while this is not something we typically do I think this is something that will help us moving forward,” said City Manager Elizabeth Dragon at Monday’s city council meeting.

The lobbyist will monitor bills directly and indirectly related to Northern Pass and alert city officials when they need to be involved. Dragon and Mayor Ken Merrifield testify at the State House on the project’s benefit to Franklin when necessary, but it is hard to keep track of every bill related to the project, Dragon said. She is planning to hire someone within the next few weeks and is looking for someone with ties to the city.

Franklin stands to gain major revenue – a projected $4.2 million annually in property taxes – from Northern Pass because a converter station will be built in the city. (The project was first announced in Franklin back in 2010.) The station will convert the power from direct current into alternating current, and Northern Pass has already purchased a 118-acre property to build it on. It will make up 60 percent of the city’s property value and decrease homeowner’s taxes by $5.60 per $1,000, according to information from Northern Pass.

The extra revenue will allow the city to focus on infrastructure improvements and other projects that have been on the back burner, Dragon said.

“The amount of tax revenue that that would bring to the community is monumental in terms of providing opportunities for Franklin’s future,” Dragon said.

As of now, the city only has $1,000 from contingency funds to spend on a lobbyist, but that amount could increase, Dragon said. The city has never hired a lobbyist to monitor a broad issue such as Northern Pass, she said. But because the project is so vital to Franklin’s future growth, it is important to dedicate extra time to it, she said.

“This project is so critical to the future of Franklin that we really want to be informed up to the minute about every bill that might affect the project,” Merrifield said.

A handful of proposed bills relate to the project without directly using the phrase Northern Pass, on topics such as burying transmission lines and developing a comprehensive state energy plan.

One of those bills is already in committee. Reps. Charles Townsend, a Canaan Democrat, and Suzanne Smith, a Hebron Democrat, introduced a bill requiring the Public Utilities Commission to study how proposed electric transmission lines benefit the public good. That bill is before the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.

When Dragon brought up hiring a lobbyist at the city council meeting, Rep. Leigh Webb, a Franklin Democrat, reminded the council that he and the other state representatives and senator are also there to work on behalf of the community. Webb, for his part, said its important to ask not only how the project benefits Franklin, but how it benefits New Hampshire as a whole. He has been in contact with a PSNH representatives asking about the percentage of energy generated that will be available in New Hampshire.

Dragon said the city will continue to keep in touch with its representatives and senator, and she just sees the lobbyist as “providing another link to the State House.”

Is this for real? Can the mayor of Franklin and Ms. Dragon not look at the nh.gov website and see when bills are coming up or have Franklin's representatives/senator advise the city? Many residents of Franklin oppose Northern Pass and stand to have their property devalued and their health affected by it. How does spending city funds to promote the proposed project reflect their interests? Will Franklin also allot $1,000 (or more) for a lobbyist against Northern Pass to represent their concerns?

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