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My Turn: There’s no Kumbaya on Northern Pass

Last modified: 6/7/2014 1:25:12 AM
An open letter to PSNH CEO Bill Quinlan:

On March 27, you met with a group of Northern Pass opponents from Sugar Hill and Easton. The group followed up with a letter to you dated April 2. It outlined what Northern Pass needs to do to address the serious flaws in its plan to run a transmission line through our state. We never received a reply.

We are frankly astonished by the new Northern Pass story line of a grand compromise involving burial in sensitive areas. Nothing could be further from the truth. The burial of approximately 8 miles in Coos County along state and town roads was the project’s only option to get around landowners who have refused to sell Northern Pass the right to use their land.

It does not represent any attempt to address opponents’ concerns and it is cynical in the extreme to present it that way. As you well know, Northern Pass’s right to bury lines there is in dispute and will likely be decided after a lengthy court battle.

In view of public statements such as the one from former Connecticut DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty in the New York Times on May 14 claiming that agreement has been reached, and from Northeast Utilities VP Leon Olivier along similar lines referring to a “coalition” of support in the quarterly investor call on May 2, we have decided to make public excerpts (due to length) of our letter to you.

None of us, nor any opponents we know, are aware of any type of compromise solution having been offered, or agreed to, much less a buried solution.

There is no Kumbaya on Northern Pass. The opposition remains solidly opposed and will continue to take all available measures to prevent the project in its present design from ever going forward. The excerpted April 2 letter follows.

“Dear Bill, We spoke at some length about your project’s failure to acknowledge the very real harm it will cause to our landscape. It will be impossible to move forward unless your spokespeople and your PR efforts cease to claim that there are no negative effects. You seemed to agree with us that there will be negative effects. These will fall on individuals, on whole towns, on regions and on our state as a whole. They will take the form of property tax losses, injury to landowners through declining property values and degraded land, damage to protected public and private landscapes and compromised tourism. To insist otherwise, indeed to paint those who point out those negative effects as somehow lacking in good sense, will result in continued, sustained resistance. To begin to find a solution, one must first admit the problem.

“We discussed at length the possibility of altering the Northern Pass plan to address in particular the visual impact problem. We believe that the way forward for you lies with flexible siting of your project. For example, most opponents would support burying the lines. Flexibility could involve moving to an HVDC Light-compatible 1000MW line as a way to get the job done in a cost-effective and timely manner. If your ultimate goal is to bring Canadian power to New England, it will have to be in a way that works for New Hampshire. At present, Northern Pass does not fit the bill. A fully buried line would be worth the cost if it enabled your project to move forward. Absent such a solution, your project may never be built. We would be glad to work with you on this; as you noted there was a lot of creativity in the room that day.

“You would certainly not be the first developer to revise a project’s design in response to public criticism. Your partner Hydro-Quebec has recently done so with its Hertel-New York project, after consulting with its host communities. In any case, to continue to provide cost figures that are, in your words, ‘rules of thumb’ to support your inflexible stance on burial betrays an alarming lack of good faith.

“We spoke of the need for greater transparency and truthfulness, an outcome that you are in a position to effect immediately and completely.

“If you are to have any credibility with the many parties in opposition to Northern Pass, you need to mute, or purge, the entrenched voices of deception within your extended organization, including contracted firms. It would be foolish to expect to overcome opposition with continued departures from the truth.

“In summary, we see four key actions you can take that would enable us to work with you toward a solution:

“1. Acknowledge the serious negative impacts of your project if it is completed as proposed.

“2. Recognize that most of these negative impacts can be reduced significantly by burying the line.

“3. Admit that the predicted cost of burying lines in nearby states is a small fraction of the $20 million per mile average cost you cited in our meeting.

“4. Accept that the opponents of your project are reasonable people, with reasonable concerns.

“We are interested in working with you toward improving your project, but we can’t play ball if you won’t throw us a pitch we can hit. Please let us have your reaction to our thoughts so we can continue this dialogue.”

(Nancy Marland is a member of Sugar Hill Tower Opponents. The letter was also signed by Dorothy McPhaul of Sugar Hill Tower Opponents; Roy Stever, chairman of the Easton Conservation Commission; Carl Martland of Sugar Hill Tower Opponents; and Margaret Connors, chairman of the Sugar Hill Board of Selectmen.)


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