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City council subcommittee will study Northern Pass impact in Concord

Last modified: 11/11/2014 12:31:28 AM
The Concord City Council will form a subcommittee to study the potential impact of Northern Pass in the city, and then make recommendations to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Concord is an intervenor in the permitting process for Northern Pass, meaning the city can weigh in on the project and take legal action if warranted. The council does not have the power to vote on whether the hydropower project moves forward, but Ward 8 Councilor Gail Matson made the motion last night to form a city subcommittee to study the project’s impact and the extent to which the lines could be buried in Concord.

“The current path of the Northern Pass is going to visually affect the city pretty significantly . . . there are property values that will likely be affected,” Matson said.

Announced in 2010, the proposed project is a partnership between Public Service of New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec. It would bring hydropower from Canada, through New Hampshire and into the New England energy grid along 187 miles of transmission lines.

Concord has already commented twice on the project. In June 2013, City Manager Tom Aspell penned a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy to express concern on behalf of the conservation commission and the planning board about Northern Pass in Concord. At that time, the conservation commission had expressed opposition to the entire project, and the planning board had suggested the power lines be buried through Concord.

Then in September 2013, the city also submitted a motion to the Department of Energy to become an intervenor in the permitting process for Northern Pass. As City Solicitor Jim Kennedy told the council last night, the project is in a period for comments. A draft environmental impact statement was expected next month, but officials said the Department of Energy will publish that document in March.

“Certainly we would have standing to make further comments and to participate in the draft that’s being worked on currently,” Kennedy said.

The council voted unanimously to form the subcommittee; Ward 3 Councilor Jan McClure recused herself because she works as the director of land protection for the Nature Conservancy, which has spoken against the project. The mayor will now appoint the members of that subcommittee and bring them back to the city council for final approval.

Also at the meeting:

∎ The council approved $50,000 for the nonprofit planning celebrations for the city’s 250th anniversary.

“We’re really looking forward to the contributions to the effort from the city,” said Jim Milliken, senior vice president of Concord 250. “This should be a wonderful birthday party for us and the city.”

The money, which will come from the city’s unassigned fund balance, will be used to hire a staff person for event coordination and marketing. Milliken called the dollars “a huge help.”

The vote was 11-1. Three members of the council – Mayor Jim Bouley, Ward 1 Councilor Brent Todd and at-large Councilor Steve Shurtleff – did not vote because they are members of Concord 250. The vote was tabled from last month, when two other councilors were absent.

The lone dissenting vote was Ward 9 Councilor Candace Bouchard.

“It’s not that I am against celebrating the birthday party,” Bouchard said.

Rather, the group has said it could come back to the council and ask for more money in the fiscal year 2016 budget, but Bouchard questioned whether the city would be more responsible to spend those dollars on other needs.

For more information on Concord 250, visit concord250.org.

∎ The council approved changes to the city’s impact fee ordinances to ease its burden on the city’s homeowners.

Concord charges an impact fee on construction and new development in the city to help pay for later expansion of infrastructure. The fee has three parts – roads, schools and parks. With the council’s approval last night, Concord will charge an impact fee based on housing unit rather than square-footage. That means homeowners would still pay an impact fee to build a new house or convert a single-family home into a multifamily home, but building an addition or renovating a basement wouldn’t trigger the city’s fee.

The changes will also eliminate the school portion of the fee in Penacook, where the Merrimack Valley School District just paid off a major bond.

The new ordinances will take effect immediately.

∎ With the council’s blessing last night, the Parks and Recreation Department will now establish a green burial section in a Concord cemetery. In a green burial, a person is interred with minimal impact on the environment; he or she is allowed to decompose naturally and might be buried using biodegradable materials.

According to a report accepted by the council last night, city staff will conduct the green burials. No headstones – only flat markers made from natural materials – will be allowed.

“The grave will be required to have a vault placed upside down to allow the interred person to lie on the earthen floor,” the report stated.

David Gill, the city’s director of parks and recreation, said his staff is still searching for the right location for green burials in its cemeteries. The department oversees and maintains 13 cemeteries in Concord.

“It is a relatively new initiative for burials, but it is another option that seems to work with our cemetery options for how you move on,” Gill said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)


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