My Turn: On Northern Pass, New Hampshire property owners deserve better
The Sunday Monitor’s July 28 editorial, “Amid climate crisis, we cannot dismiss Northern Pass” was surprising in the way it discounted the rights, hopes and dreams of New Hampshire’s private property owners.
The Monitor’s claim that the project’s impact will be “minimal to modest” notwithstanding, anyone with eyes to see would be hard-pressed to agree that huge towers looming over a family’s home or an unspoiled landscape would have a minimal effect.
The voters of 33 towns along the route believe otherwise. The chambers of commerce of the North Country, Littleton, Franconia Notch, Lincoln-Woodstock and Plymouth believe otherwise. The North Country Council believes otherwise. The Concord Planning Board believes otherwise.
The multitude of private property owners whose land would be degraded believe otherwise. Real estate agents and developers know otherwise already.
Anyone who has taken the time to view the existing National Grid line here in New Hampshire or seen southern Quebec’s forest of metal towers might be forgiven for wondering where the Monitor got this insulting idea.
Here in New Hampshire we treasure private property. Private property rights are enshrined in our Constitution. We care about the sanctity of private property so much that we have a constitutional amendment that specifically prevents the forcible taking of our land for private profit. Recently, the Legislature made it abundantly clear that private-profit utility projects like Northern Pass are not allowed to use the power of eminent domain.
In other words, this project is not worthy of forcing people to sacrifice their land.
And yet the Monitor believes the case for Northern Pass is compelling enough that property owners on or near the planned 187 miles of line can rightfully be forced to sacrifice the value and condition of their property.
What is the compelling argument? We are in a climate crisis and we need clean power. Not many people would disagree with that.
Whether or not a Northern Pass Transmission Project that strings upward of 1,200 towers through our state and depends on industrial-scale hydro power is the answer to this crisis is highly controversial and distinctly open to question.
For example, it is puzzling indeed that not one New Hampshire environmental group supports Northern Pass. Not one.
Nevertheless, the responsible course in this instance is to find a way to reconcile the transmission of renewable power with the need to respect private property rights.
Fortunately, the “ideal solution” is at hand, according to the Monitor. Placing transmission lines underground would do the trick for most people. The Legislature is exploring the creation of a state utility corridor along highways and rail beds.
Not only would buried lines be invisible, they would be secure against weather events and human interventions.
The state would collect revenue for use of the corridor.
This is an eminently practical approach and one that the Legislature and the governor would do well to put in place in the coming session. This is not pie in the sky; other states have taken this approach with success.
Why should New Hampshire settle for less?
It has taken a very long time for the climate to reach its present state. Taking an extra year or two to reroute an energy project using an underground corridor is not unreasonable and will probably not tip the balance one way or the other.
Taking the time to do it right sets our state on a course that is fair to its citizens and safeguards the legacy we will leave to future generations.
Pushing ahead with Northern Pass as planned, using antiquated transmission technology that will stay with us into the next century instead of a modern, secure and invisible technology is shortsighted and irresponsible.
It is not worthy of the sacrifice it would extract from New Hampshire’s property owners, who deserve better.
(Nancy Martland is coordinator of the Sugar Hill Tower Opponents.)