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Federal officials to gather Northern Pass input at ‘scoping meetings’ this week

Representatives of the Northern Pass project hosted an informational session for area residents sharing plans for the project in Concord on Wednesday evening, September 4, 2013.

JOHN TULLY / File photo

Representatives of the Northern Pass project hosted an informational session for area residents sharing plans for the project in Concord on Wednesday evening, September 4, 2013. JOHN TULLY / File photo

Northern Pass has been the subject of heated public debate in New Hampshire for nearly three years, from the North Country to Franklin and farther south.

This week, both supporters and opponents of the project will get a chance to let the federal government know what they think.

“It’s an appropriate part of the process, in our opinion, for people to have the opportunity to voice comments, whether in support or in opposition,” said project spokesman Martin Murray. “And then the permitting process moves forward.”

The U.S. Department of Energy is holding four “scoping meetings” this week – tonight in Concord, tomorrow in Plymouth, Wednesday in Whitefield and Thursday in Colebrook – on Northeast Utilities’s $1.4 billion plan to bring 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to the New England power grid through New Hampshire on 187 miles of transmission lines.

The meetings will allow federal officials to gather feedback on the project in general and specifically on what should be considered in an Environmental Impact Statement that’s required before the project can receive federal approval to cross the U.S.-Canadian border, a so-called “presidential permit.”

(The project must also get permission to cross the White Mountain National Forest, as well as approval from the state Site Evaluation Committee, before construction begins.)

Northern Pass was announced in October 2010, and seven scoping meetings were held back in 2011. More meetings were scheduled after the project this summer unveiled a revised route.

Opponents, such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, will be there.

“I think you can count on us making the point that the applicant has failed to include alternatives as required by the process,” said Jack Savage, the forest society’s vice president for communications and outreach, “and that we will be asking the DOE to include in the EIS specific alternatives, including burial along state transportation corridors in New Hampshire of the complete project, beginning to end.”

The latest plan includes burying nearly 8 miles of transmission lines, but project officials have said it would be too expensive to bury the entire thing.

Northern Pass has also been holding a series of “open houses” across the state, including two last week. Four more are planned next month.

“We’ve been very encouraged by the support that we’ve seen and we’ve received at our recent open house events,” Murray said, adding, “Our perception is that the benefits of the project are really becoming apparent, even to those who may have first questioned it.”

But Savage said the scoping meetings are more vital than Northern Pass-organized forums.

“The open houses are their dog and pony show, and people want to go and learn what they can,” he said. “But it’s the DOE hearings where you actually have an opportunity to participate in the process.”

The four meetings this week are being held:

∎ Tonight, from 6 to 9 p.m., at the Grappone Conference Center, 70 Constitution Ave. in Concord.

∎ Tomorrow, from 5 to 8 p.m., at the Silver Center for the Arts, 114 Main St. in Plymouth.

∎ Wednesday, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, 101 Mountain View Road in Whitefield.

∎ Thursday, from 5 to 8 p.m., at Colebrook Elementary School, 27 Dumont St. in Colebrook.

Comments can also be submitted in writing. More information is available online at northernpasseis.us.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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