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Delegation seeks longer power line comment time

Last modified: 4/8/2011 12:00:00 AM
Following a meeting last week of several Deerfield residents who are opposed to the Northern Pass power line project, three members of Congress from New Hampshire are asking the U.S. Department of Energy to give citizens more time to submit their official comments, questions and concerns to the department.

The comment period, which is scheduled to end April 12, allows people to mail or e-mail the department as part of its environmental impact statement - a comprehensive analysis of the project's potential effects on the surrounding land and people. The department must submit an environmental impact statement as part of a special federal permit process required of all energy projects that would cross international borders.

The Northern Pass project would carry 1200 megawatts of hydroelectricity 180 miles, from the Canadian border to a converter station in Franklin and then to Deerfield, where it would be piped into the regional power grid.

In the letter, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Charlie Bass argued that some residents, especially in the southern part of the state, didn't know about the project or that they had the opportunity to comment.

"It has recently come to our attention that many New Hampshire residents, notably those in the town of Deerfield, are just now learning about the proposed transmission project and the department's environmental review process," they said in the letter. "This provides them with little opportunity to make informed and thoughtful comments in time for the April 12 . . . comment deadline."

The Department of Energy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The letter references a meeting held Tuesday in Deerfield, which was attended by more than 60 opponents to the plan. A spokesperson for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, an opponent of the project, gave an informational Power Point presentation about the project and issues surrounding it, including its possible effect on property values, tourism, wildlife habitat and the local small-scale renewable energy industry.

After the presentation, several residents - many of whom own land that may be affected by the proposed plan - held an informal forum, speaking passionately against the project.

Martin Murray, a spokesperson for Northeast Utilities, the company being paid by the Canadian utility Hydro Quebec to complete the project, said that the project supports the extension of the comment period. However, he emphasized that notices were sent to residents about the project in February and early March, in time for them to participate and comment.

"Northern Pass has been in regular contact with town officials since last fall," Murray said in an e-mail. "Project officials also made a public presentation to the select board on January 31. That meeting was attended by a number of residents, and the presentation was reported on by the local newsletter." he wrote.

At the meeting on Tuesday, a member of Deerfield's conservation commission read a letter to the audience from officials at Northern Pass, apologizing for not being able to send a representative on short notice and offering to schedule a meeting with townspeople at a later date.

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


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