Towers near airport approved

Last modified: Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Opponents of the Northern Pass project proposed through Chichester and Pembroke are a step closer to a victory. Federal aviation officials have approved several transmission towers near the Concord airport needed to keep the project out of those towns and on land already dotted with power lines.

Project leaders as well as Concord officials favor running Northern Pass's hydro-power lines along the existing right-of-way. But Northern Pass has hurdles to clear first.

Public Service of New Hampshire, which is designing the route, still needs approval for several other towers that would sit within the airport's flight path. The Federal Aviation Administration said the towers initially proposed by PSNH were too high. Company engineers are now designing a new plan with shorter towers, said Martin Murray, Northern Pass spokesman.

And if PSNH is successful there, the entire 180-mile Northern Pass project, which would run from Canada to Deerfield, would still need other federal and state approvals.

But the route through the greater Concord area has been a controversial one that people on both sides of the project would like settled. If PSNH cannot get clearance to build the remaining towers in the airport area, it would instead cut a new right-of-way through several miles in Chichester and Pembroke.

"We are cautiously optimistic about the airport (route)," Murray said. "We are cautiously optimistic we can engineer a design that can meet FAA requirements."

Once aviation officials have the new proposal with shorter towers, they will respond within two to four months, he said.

Murray said he does not know how tall the redesigned towers will be, but he said engineers will work within the heights approved for the towers outside the airport. Those towers range in height from about 55 to 88 feet, according to filings with the FAA.

The $1.1 billion project is a partnership between PSNH, its parent company, Northeast Utilities, Hydro-Quebec and NSTAR. If approved, high-voltage power lines would run the length of the state and feed hydropower into the New England grid through a station in Deerfield.

The North Country has been the most organized and vocal in its opposition, with opponents alleging not only health and environmental harm but also economic problems if the project deters tourists.

Residents in Chichester and Pembroke have formed their own opposition group, the Concerned Citizens of Chichester and Pembroke Against Northern Pass. They are represented by attorney Ray D'Amante of Concord.

Mark Chronis of Plausawa Hill Road in Pembroke would see the new 130-foot towers cut through the back of his house and through his yard if PSNH fails to win permission to go through the airport. Chronis does not know if his land would be taken by eminent domain but said it would change his living situation dramatically.

"Fortunately this (initial airport approval) is a piece of good news," he said. "But we still have a long way to go."

Chronis said he would continue to fight the project even if his yard is spared a series of transmission towers.

He said he dislikes the project's dependence on Canada and isn't convinced New Hampshire needs to produce more energy. He also said the project generates more than it can use. He said he's tired of waiting to learn which way the route will go.

"This project has put a lot of lives on hold," he said.

The Haggetts in Pembroke are waiting, too.

Brothers Jim and Ken Haggett have large plots near one another on Cross Country Road. Their great-great-grandfather built a farm on 14 acres in 1831, and generations after him gradually added to it. Jim and Ken Haggett and a third brother, Ed, on North Pembroke Road, own a total of 300 acres.

Ken Haggett raised cattle on his acreage. His brothers are surrounded by woods. They'd all like to keep it that way.

An environmental survey team asked Linda and Jim Haggett if they could get on the land to assess environmental impacts of the project.

"I said don't bother (coming out) because we have no intention of letting you on our land," Linda Haggett said.

They haven't been back.

Murray said project officials are not doing environmental assessments along the Chichester and Pembroke routes right now because they are focused on using the existing right-of-way through Concord.

The Haggetts oppose the project in part because they don't want a swath cut through their land to make way for transmission poles. Linda believes the high voltage lines pose a health risk and she, like Chronis, is not convinced the state needs to generate more power.

Concord has had a quieter response to the project. City officials have said they'd like to see the transmission lines run along the existing right-of-way but have not commented beyond that. A few Concord residents filed comments with federal officials at northernpasseis.us, some for and some against.

If Northern Pass is built, Kevin Perron is someone who's going to see new transmission lines and towers whether or not the route goes through Concord, Chichester and Pembroke. He's about to close on a house on the shore of Turtle Pond, on Oak Hill Road.

The house and garage are in the path of the existing lines, and he knew when he agreed to buy the house that it sat in the proposed path of the Northern Pass. He expects the project will be approved and built. Given that, he said, he's hoping PSNH will work with him when it comes time to locate the lines.

"I don't want big poles any closer to my house," he said. "I don't want lines any closer to my house. And I'd like to have my say about what kind of structure they put in and where they put it."

Perron said he especially dislikes the lattice tower PSNH has proposed. He said he would rather see a traditional utility pole.

"I can live with it if it's something that blends in a bit," he said. But with his closing date approaching, Perron said, "This Northern Pass thing is kind of a looming beast."

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or at atimmins@cmonitor.com.)