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Farm family asks Canterbury to take stance on Northern Pass



Last modified: Sunday, December 13, 2015
When Corinne and Craig Pullen bought their dream farm in Canterbury almost 16 years ago, they did not envision a view of tall transmission-line towers.

“We probably looked at 15 other farms and we drove up the driveway – it was the most beautiful farm we had ever seen,” said Corinne, 60. With repairs to the circa-1743 property, a new horse barn, riding rings, fencing and 26 horses added to their 140 acres, Windswept Farm has become a full equestrian, hay and vegetable-growing operation.

It also offers and Airbnb-like farm stay.

But with the prospect of the Northern Pass transmission line project running through their right of way, the Pullens said they are worried about the farm’s future. Their role as “an extension cord” for hydropower from Canada to the New England energy grid, they said, could have damaging effects: marred views, lower property values, heavy machinery use on their dirt road, larger electromagnetic fields and altered riding trails and hayfields.

“That impacts our livelihood,” said Craig, 59. “People come here because it’s pretty.” And, he added not so jokingly, “It’ll definitely ruin our sunsets.”

Their concerns, however, don’t appear to be shared across much of Canterbury. At a packed selectmen’s meeting last week when a discussion about town policing was on the agenda, a quick presentation by Northern Pass and Eversource Energy (formerly Public Service of New Hampshire) drew few questions – the Pullens were by far the most vocal of the 70 or so people in the room.

“I was shocked at how unaware people are,” said Corinne. The project has only been mentioned one other time at selectmen’s meetings this year, according to meeting minutes.

In light of how the project could affect the family’s property and the other 5.9 miles of right of way land in Canterbury, Corinne added, “I was disappointed with the selectmen’s lack of concern about this project and about how it may affect the town.”

That night, the selectmen asked about potential tax revenue from the project – an estimated $700,000 – and whether the towers were shorter than previously proposed before moving on to the police discussion.

Craig added, “A couple of questions from the selectmen and it was over.”

Issues

The Pullens – who run the farm with their 31-year-old daughter Kelly and her 33-year-old husband, CJ – said they have been concerned about the Northern Pass ever since the project was proposed in 2010. That’s when Eversource Energy began notifying the family of the potential for additional, higher capacity transmission lines to be installed in their right of way. Currently, two sets of power lines are strung up there.

The size of the new lines, Corinne said, is the first issue. At last Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, Eversource project manager Brian Bosse said that the towers for the two existing lines are most commonly 43 and 75 feet tall, respectively, and Northern Pass towers would most commonly be 80 feet. The towers could range between 65 and 115 feet, however.

“You’ll have variation,” he said.

For the Pullens, current plans posted on Northern Pass’s website show towers in the vicinity of their land around 88 feet. Craig expects them to rise above the tree line and into view of the farm, and Corinne, a part-time hospice nurse, has an altogether different concern: electromagnetic fields created by lines carrying 345 kilovolts of alternating current. (The two existing lines carry 115 kV each).

“We’re worried with the health effects with our animals grazing down in that area,” Corinne said.

She referred to Littleton doctor Campbell McLaren, who has researched childhood Leukemia’s connection to electric transmission lines. The World Health Organization classifies such studies as inconclusive, though qualifies that electromagnetic fields do have a clear effect on cancer, even if risk may be small.

The Pullens have other qualms, too. The dirt road running from their barn to the power lines, for instance, is how Eversource Energy currently gets to its lines, and the electric company’s machinery often digs up the rough path. “We’re an access point,” Craig said.

On Sunday, deep ruts lined either side, and the Pullens wondered about heavy machinery and the large poles that would be coming through to erect the Northern Pass. “This land is highly erodable,” said Craig, pointing to the sandy soil.

Craig said he also hays underneath the lines, though new towers may alter that slightly even though the family would still have access to the right of way.

“It’s still a footprint,” he said.

In addition to physical stress to their land, the Pullens are concerned about what may happen to their overall property value if the Northern Pass project is approved, especially given how much work they’ve put into a farm that was naturally beautiful, but run down, when they bought it.

“It’s taken 15 years of hard labor to bring this place up,” Craig said.

A solution?

The Pullens see a way to avoid many of the potential problems with the Northern Pass: to bury the line. The project announced in August that 60 miles of the 192-mile line would be underground in the northern part of the state.

But, Corinne said, the town has to advocate for itself in order to make that happen, given that burying the line is more expensive. When the Pullens asked Eversource and Northern Pass representatives about it at last Monday’s meeting, they responded that comments would be received at Department of Energy regional hearings, only, by phone and mail.

The Pullens are going a few steps further. They’ve put out a sign-up sheet stating support for burial of the Northern Pass lines in their riding ring viewing room, which has 34 signatures so far. They also asked to be on the agenda of the Jan. 4 selectmen’s meeting for 6:15 p.m., when they hope to have a community conversation about the project.

Whether they find success – when someone asked at the last meeting whether people supported burying the line, maybe less than half of the attendees raised hands half-heartedly – is up in the air. But the Pullens are trying.

“We’re paying taxes on that land down there and it’s going to be used and overburdened in ways we don’t agree with,” Corinne said.

“This town believes in open space and conserving the land,” Craig said. “It should really be voicing concerns for the residents.”



(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)