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Concord residents along Northern Pass route share thoughts on proposal



Last modified: Sunday, October 25, 2015
When the leaves fall, Tom Nickerson sees the two power lines that run behind his neighbor’s house across the street. Soon Nickerson, who lives off Brookwood Drive in Concord, could be looking at a lot more.

Northern Pass is proposing to string up a new transmission line in the right-of-way that neighbors Nickerson’s home. Some of the existing towers across the street would move closer to houses and nearly double in height, to 84 feet. New Northern Pass towers will stand between 75 and 85 feet and be a lot bulkier than what’s there now.

While Nickerson fears the project could affect his property value and he prefers it be buried, he acknowledges a need for the hydropower Northern Pass would provide.

“I’m for the project, against the current plan,” he said. “You can’t turn away every energy source because it makes you uncomfortable.”

Nickerson’s statement speaks to divided feelings in Concord, where the transmission project is set to run overhead near homes and businesses in the northern and eastern part of the city. (Click here for an interactive map of the route.)

Northern Pass is planning to put up a 192-mile transmission line through New Hampshire. Roughly eight miles of the line would pass through Concord, in an existing right of way that is already home to two transmission lines. The Northern Pass would be wedged in between the existing pair.

And while the current right-of-way won’t be expanded beyond its roughly 250 foot width, Northern Pass is taking other measures to make sure all projects fit.

One existing power line in the corridor will grow in height and be relocated further west, in some cases moving much closer to existing homes and businesses along the power corridor. Along the entire route, existing utility towers will nearly double in size, from an average height of 43 feet to roughly 88 feet if the project is built. The proposed Northern Pass towers will be wider than the existing ones, and average 100 feet tall.

The Monitor interviewed dozens of people who live and work along the route, and found a range of opinions of the power project.

Many residents who live along the path say they want the line buried. Some think adding another power line to an already crowded right-of-way is too much. Several residents, like Nickerson, fear their property values will drop.

“This place is getting destroyed,” said Doug Ponusky, who has lived off Portsmouth Street for more than 30 years. From his backyard he can see the existing power lines, and is worried Northern Pass will be too large. “If you want to know my feeling, I am saying we don’t need anymore. We have too much now.”

But, other residents who have been living along the right of way for years, don’t mind being close to the power lines. And some see a need for Northern Pass, which would feed roughly 1,000 megawatts of Canadian hydropower into the New England grid, enough to power one million homes. They say the energy will help lower rates, and diversify the energy mix, even if it is right in their back yard.

“We need the power,” said Joe Thompson, who has lived off Appleton Road near Turtle Pond for decades. The right-of-way parallels the edge of Thompson’s property. “I’m so used to them. I raised kids here, there haven’t been any side effects.”

Aside from residential neighborhoods, the Northern Pass would cut through an industrial park off Regional and Chenell drives in the southwest part of Concord.

Business owners that lease or own property in the area say the project won’t have much of an effect, since the power corridor is already home to several existing lines. But still, many called for burial through the city, and elsewhere in the state.

New Hampshire Distributors backs up to the existing power corridor where Northern Pass would be built.

“There’s already two or three power lines back there that restrict further development of our property back,” said President and CEO Chris Brown, who doesn’t think the hydropower line will impact the use or resale value of the land. “The thought of putting it underground would be best situation for everyone.”

Other prominent voices in the city also want to see Northern Pass buried through Concord.

The Concord City Council recently recommended the project be buried in its entirety through the city. At a recent public hearing on Northern Pass, top Eversource Energy executive Bill Quinlan said the company didn’t hear widespread public outcry to bury the line through Concord, or any particular town, except the White Mountain National Forest.

Since then dozens of residents have showed up at city meetings, and hundreds have signed local petitions, asking for the line to be buried here.

Last week, Northern Pass officially submitted its application to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, beginning a one year state approval process. It’s 20,000-page application does not propose burying any of the line through Concord.

Northern Pass would enter the city from Canterbury, and cross the intersection of Mountain and Hoit Roads, where the new towers would stand roughly 95 and 100 feet tall, that’s roughly double the height of the Smile Building downtown.

The transmission line would then run parallel to Mountain Road (Route 132), cross Shaker Road and pass by Turtle Pond.

The line would cross I-393 at Portsmouth Street, pass over Loudon Road and the Shaw’s parking lot, before running alongside McKenna’s Purchase, a condominium development. It then criss-crosses the industrial zone before heading into Pembroke.

Northern Pass officials say they are working with the city to mitigate the concerns. For example, Northern Pass changed a proposed tower design at Loudon Road from a 125-foot metal lattice structure, to a single monopole that will be the same height.

“The Northern Pass project has the potential to provide substantial benefit to New Hampshire, but only if it is affordable to complete the project,” said spokesman Martin Murray, in response to the Council’s recommendation. “We’ve worked hard with communities to determine what affordable steps we can take to reduce potential impact.”

Michael D’Amante is pleased with designs Northern Pass has showed him. D’Amante is developing a Loudon Road strip mall that neighbors the power corridor. He says the new project, and associated changes, will make the right-of-way more aesthetically pleasing than it is now.

But, other residents report little contact with the company, and know few details about the project or how it would affect their land and view. At least three Concord landowners along the route said they didn’t know Northern Pass was planning to come through when they purchased their property within the last few years.

Kelly Normandeau owns Concord Equestrian Center, a property she bought in 2012. She found out a week before closing on the sale that Northern Pass was set to run through her backyard.

“Whether it goes in the ground, or overhead is going to be extremely disruptive,” she said. “My biggest concerns are how it’s going to affect my business, which is my livelihood.”



(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)



Visit our interactive map of the Northern Pass route through Concord.