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Longtime opponent to Northern Pass files suit to halt energy project over private property rights



Last modified: Sunday, November 22, 2015
The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is suing Northern Pass, arguing the energy company doesn’t have the right to bury a transmission line beneath 600 feet of its conservation land in Clarksville.

“We want to defend our conserved lands from commercial development,” said the group’s spokesman, Jack Savage, during a press conference in Concord on Thursday. “Our objective is to stop what they want to do and to push them to other alternatives.”

The forest society is also asking the state Site Evaluation Committee – in charge of permitting large-scale energy projects – to deem Northern Pass’ recently submitted application incomplete. The committee has 60 days to determine whether an application is complete before a project can move forward into the siting process.

If either decision is granted, it will likely set the project back.

The Northern Pass is proposing to build a 192-mile transmission line through New Hampshire to carry Canadian hydropower into the New England power grid.

The project is touted by supporters as a way to bring renewable energy to a power hungry region. But it has run into intense opposition from local land owners and environmentalists who argue the overhead towers will mar New Hampshire’s natural landscapes. While roughly 60 miles of the project would run underground, the forest society has been a vocal advocate for full burial.

The organization’s lawsuit, filed in Coos County Superior Court on Thursday, focuses on a piece of land known as the Washburn Family Forest that the forest society acquired less than a decade ago. The Northern Pass is proposing to bury its transmission line beneath Route 3, a state road that runs through a portion of the Clarksville property.

The forest society argues Northern Pass doesn’t have a legal right to use the land because the company doesn’t have its permission. The suit asserts that the Site Evaluation Committee can’t undermine private property rights. And it asks the court to settle the dispute and grant a permanent injunction to prevent Northern Pass from conducting any activities on the Washburn property.

“Given that Northern Pass has not proven that it has the right to use all of the land that it has proposed to use, it would be a monumental waste of the state’s resources and the public’s resources for the Site Evaluation Committee to consider Northern Pass’ application because Northern Pass does not own the Forest Society’s land,” said Amy Manzelli, an attorney with BCM Environmental & Land Law representing the forest society.

Northern Pass asserts the project route is secure because it uses a public right-of-way beneath a state road “in a manner that is and has been expressly authorized by state law for more than a century.” The company responded to the lawsuit in a blog post Thursday, calling it “irresponsible” and an attempt to “delay an open and transparent review.”

“It is hypocritical that the Forest Society has long argued for additional underground construction, but is now challenging our proposal to do just that,” the blog post said. “It calls into question the organization’s motives, and why it is so distrusting of the state’s public permitting process.”

In addition to burying the line beneath Route 3 in Clarksville, Northern Pass is also proposing to run roughly 52 miles of the hydropower line beneath public roads in and around the White Mountain National Forest. Northern Pass is seeking approval to use public roadways through the state permitting process.

The Site Evaluation Committee has until Dec. 18 to determine whether the Northern Pass application is complete and can move forward.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation oversees state roads, and recently told the SEC it had received sufficient information from Northern Pass to initiative the permitting process.

But DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said the department is still waiting for a legal interpretation on some contentions over public road access. “At this point we’re not taking a position, other than to say that we’re treating the application as any other application,” he said.



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