My Turn: Northern Pass’s Lincoln open house: corporate marketing, lacking answers

Last modified: 9/25/2013 12:54:59 AM
On the evening of Sept. 11, residents of Easton were afforded the opportunity to attend a Northern Pass “open house” in Lincoln. The 40-mile round trip unfortunately confirmed what is now emerging in press reports: Northern Pass has staged yet another hollow and expensive public relations event.

Questions about the project’s likely impacts were unanswered. Realistic options, such as burial along existing roadbeds to avoid White Mountain National Forest, have not been considered. There was even disagreement among team members on the basic question of who receives the profits from the project.

Amending previous claims that the burial of eight miles of the proposed line in Pittsburg and Clarksville was done for the benefit of North Country residents, a Northeast Utilities official informed me that burial was instead principally to gain a viable route. Maybe we all knew this, but his admission nonetheless fights with claims in the company’s eight-panel, eight-color brochure mailed to many New Hampshire residents. It also does not square with the many public disclosures in which PSNH and Northeast Utilities have claimed to have always had a route through the North Country.

It seems pointless to invite an already skeptical public to a meeting that is both scripted and designed to mute objection, and then to fall so short on providing answers to even the most basic questions. I would have liked to hear answers to any of the following questions that I posed at the various information stations:

∎ Why have no alternatives to bypassing the White Mountain National Forest been considered, as the impact on tourism, vistas, wildlife and the fragile environment would be severe, particularly in the unforgiving terrain of Easton and Lincoln? How does the cost per mile in this terrain compare to the overall average cost per mile?

∎ How many tons of cement would be needed to support the towers, on average? How would the equivalent tons of displaced soil be transported, by truck or helicopter, to a disposal site?

∎ Why does Northern Pass’ visual assessment include only two views in Easton, ignoring the town’s classic vistas?

∎ How many permanent jobs would be created in New Hampshire, for New Hampshire residents?

∎ Why has burial along a softened roadway not been considered as an option, and why do Northern Pass’s estimates of burial costs exceed all available industry estimates by a factor of two to three times?

∎ Has the company made any attempt whatsoever to create a public/private venture to use state transportation corridors, sharing revenues and virtually eliminating project impacts?

∎ How can Northern Pass substantiate its greenhouse gas reduction projections, using 2010 data and apparently missing emissions from the massive flooded acreage and the loss of carbon-sequestering forest, and the addition of infrastructure in Quebec?

By now, it should be clear to the governor, legislators, our Washington delegation and regulators that Northern Pass has dismissed all accountability to protect the values we hold so dearly in New Hampshire. One senior Northeast Utilities official excused the entire range of opposition concerns by confidently claiming that Northern Pass would be no different than the electricity infrastructure that already serves the state – a proposition that caused several in the audience to laugh, and then leave.

As a retired marketing executive, now teaching at Plymouth State University, I believe the Northern Pass open houses, as well as the recent public relations blitz, are a desperate and disingenuous attempt to salvage a failing business case.

Informed marketing, on the other hand, would consider the needs of all stakeholders and aspire to a higher level of transparency, clarity and mutual trust.

(Roy R. Stever teaches in the College of Business Administration at Plymouth State University.)

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