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Northern Pass suspected in sale

Last modified: 10/22/2011 12:00:00 AM
The recent closing and pending sale of Franklin's Thousand Acres Family Campground is fueling speculation among locals that Northern Pass is buying the 118-acre site for its hydroelectric power converter station.

Northern Pass officials announced their $1.2 billion project to bring hydroelectric power from Canada and through New Hampshire for distribution into the New England power grid a year ago this month. They said the project would include a new converter station in Franklin that would change the direct current power from Canada to alternating current.

Project officials have said the converter station will need at least 30 acres.

Campground owner Marian Kolbe and her lawyer, James Sessler of Franklin, confirmed they have a buyer but declined to say who it was. They have said only that it will no longer be used as a campground and that Kolbe and her husband plan to retire.

When asked whether the buyer was Northern Pass, Sessler said, "I'm not able to divulge that."

Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said he also could not confirm any details about the campground sale or any other pending real estate sales. If Northern Pass is the buyer, the company is insisting on the same confidentiality here as it has in the North Country.

Northern Pass officials have negotiated several purchases in the North Country for new transmission lines and have prohibited sellers there from discussing the deals, according to several people in the North Country. In an email, Murray wrote, "Out of respect for the privacy of landowners, we are not commenting on any discussions regarding the possible sale of real estate."

Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield has heard rumors about Northern Pass buying the campground land but said no one has confirmed that for him. The city's tax assessor, Debbie Ryba, said she's also aware of the speculation and has been checking the Merrimack County Registry of Deeds for information about a sale.

Sessler said it would be about two months before a record of the sale should be filed at the Merrimack County Registry of Deeds.

The campground generates $13,800 a year in tax revenue for the city. Northern Pass officials have said their investment in the city, including the new converter station, will bring in $4.2 million annually in new taxes. The promise of significant tax relief has made Franklin the project's loudest cheerleader and one of the few communities where residents have been vocal in their support.

The campground is at 1079 S. Main St. and sits on the west side of Route 3, near the Daniel Webster Farm. Kolbe's father, Donald Kimball, started the campground in the 1960s, according to an obituary that ran after his October 2000 death. His wife, Ruth Kimball, died in 2009. The Kimballs sold the business and property to Kolbe in the 1980s, and she's run it since with her husband, Robert.

The property sits in the city's conservation district, but transmission systems carrying "essential systems" are permitted, according to the city's zoning rules. Essential services include construction by public utilities.

The campground offered 150 sites, a 3-acre pond, and plenty of woods. Kolbe announced on her website this month the campground was closing for good. She has recently posted a note to customers.

"Without the continued support of ALL our customers, we should have never had the quality campground that has been a major part of my life for nearly 40 years," Kolbe wrote. "From the bottom of my heart, I thank you."

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


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