Northern Pass ups land bid

Last modified: 12/24/2011 12:00:00 AM
Northern Pass officials have increased their offer for land around the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel to $3 million, even though the land's owners have already signed a deal with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

And that deal was approved by the state attorney general's office late Friday evening. Northern Pass wants the right to run high-voltage transmission lines across 24 acres of the 5,600-acre parcel for its proposed hydropower line from Canada. The trust that owns the land rejected the company's $2.2 million offer earlier this month and instead agreed to sell both the conservation rights and utility rights for the whole parcel to the forest society for much less - $850,000.

In his pitch Friday, Northern Pass President James Muntz told trust officials he was willing to pay both his initial $2.2 million offer for the power line easement plus the $850,000 the forest society is offering for the conservation easement 'in the event' the pending deal fell through.

Thomas Deans, chairman of the Tillotson Corp., which owns the land, said Northern Pass's latest offer doesn't change anything. Nor does he expect the deal with the forest society to fall through, he said. 'Right now we have a purchase-and-sales agreement with the (forest society),' he said. 'We will put (Northern Pass's latest) offer aside and will work on accomplishing our agreement with the forest society.'

Martin Murray, Northern Pass spokesman, said earlier this week that the Balsams property in Dixville Notch is not critical to the northern route officials are trying to site for the project. There is other land available, he said, but the property is the project's first choice.

Deans said the only way its deal with the forest society will fall through is if the society fails to raise the $850,000 it needs by Jan. 15, or if the state attorney general's office objects to the sale.

The state, which must sign off on the agreement because the land is held by a trust, granted that approval Friday evening.

In a letter to the trust's attorney, the attorney general's office recognized the difference in what Northern Pass offered for the land and what the trust has accepted from the forest society.

'The (land's owners) value the conservation restrictions alone at approximately $1.5 million,' the letter said. 'The fair market value of the right of way is at least $2.2 million. As such, under the agreement with the society, the (land's owners) would be transferring assets to the society worth more than $3.7 million for $850,000.'

The letter continued, 'The trustees have determined that a transfer to the society is consistent with the purpose and terms of the trust, and that it is in the best interest of the environment and economy of the North Country.' The state approved that conclusion.

That's a blow to Northern Pass officials.

Earlier this week, they asked the state to reject the trust's deal with the forest society on the grounds that the trustees had a 'fiduciary' duty to accept the highest bid. Murray said Northern Pass officials support the forest society's conservation plans but believe they should be allowed to buy the rights to run transmission lines across a small portion of that land.

The Neil Tillotson Trust's mission requires that trustees consider only projects that conserve the North County's natural resources and further economic development. 'Our mission is not to sell for the highest price,' Deans said. 'Our mission is to do the right thing in the interests of the people of the North Country.'

Jack Savage, spokesman for the forest society, learned of Northern Pass's new offer from a reporter on Friday. '(Northern Pass officials) seem to be curiously unclear that the negotiations are over,' he said. 'We have a contract and purchase-and-sales agreement that we fully intend to execute by Jan. 15.'

He said Northern Pass's objections and 'stunts' this week have actually helped the society's fundraising. 'What's great about all of this is that in the nonprofit world, the end of the year is one of the most active times for giving.' Savage said. 'It's when people make choices about what organizations and projects they will support with tax-deductible donations. So, this is a perfect time for them to be doing this and to bring attention to this.'

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




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