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Northern Pass tour through Concord criticized for limited access, steering away from controversial areas

  • A worker in a bucket truck along the intersection of power lines from Eversource and Unitil could be seen along the Northern Pass route near the Steeplegate Mall. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Instead of looking at the actual route of the Northern Pass, participants were given photo renditions of where the route would go at the Turtle Pond area in East Concord. Protesters were kept away and told they could speak later. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Northern Pass project manager Brian Bosse points to where transmission lines are across from the entrance of the Steeplegate Mall in Concord last week during the SEC’s visits to project sites across the area. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Northern Pass project manager Brian Bosse explains the right of way area of the proposed Northern Pass area behind Home Depot in Concord last week.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Onlookers from the site visit look over the area of the Northern Pass proposed right of way in back of the Home Depot in Concord last week.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Northern Pass project manager Brian Bosse explains the right of way area of the proposed Northern Pass area behind Home Depot in Concord last week.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Onlookers from the site visit look over the area of the Northern Pass proposed right of way in back of the Home Depot in Concord last week.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A worker in a bucket truck along the intersection of power lines from Eversource and Unitil along the route of the Northern Pass sight near the Steeplegate Mall.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Northern Pass project manager Brian Bosse points to where the transmission lines are across from the entrance of the Steeplegate Mall in Concord last week during the SEC site visits to the project sites around the area.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Instead of looking at the actual route of the Northern Pass, participants were given photo renditions of where the route would go at the Turtle Pond area in East Concord last week. Protestoers were kept away and told they could speak at the public hearing later that day.(GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Monday, March 21, 2016
A Northern Pass engineer stood on the sidewalk near Applebee’s on Loudon Road, pointing across the street at power lines running parallel with the Steeplegate Mall.

The project’s proposed transmission towers would stand 125 feet tall on either side of the intersection, roughly 50 feet higher than the existing poles, he said through a megaphone as passing cars honked at the large group.

The stop was part of a seven-hour bus tour that state regulators took last week to view the proposed Northern Pass route through Merrimack County, to physically see where the electric transmission lines would be planted and imagine their impact on the landscape.

But some abutters and interested officials said they were not given proper notice of the public tour, or given a chance to ride on the two buses that together sat 20 people.

“We did not get an invite,” said Deerfield Selectman Richard Pitman. “The email specifically said the timing and that the tour was going to take place, and that’s all it was.”

Others said Wednesday’s tour bypassed locations where the energy project would have maximum effect.

Susan Arnold, who represented the Appalachian Mountain Club on the tour, said she wondered why regulators didn’t visit McKenna’s Purchase, a Concord condominium development bordered by the proposed power lines and whose residents are among the city’s most vocal Northern Pass opponents. Instead, the group viewed that section of the proposed transmission line from the parking lot behind Home Depot.

The tour is part of the Site Evaluation Committee’s review of Northern Pass, a proposed transmission line that would run mostly overhead for 192 miles through New Hampshire. The project would carry Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid, enough to power nearly 1 million homes.

In the next year, the 9-member SEC will decide whether to sign off on the project. Northern Pass also needs federal approval.

The project has drawn fierce opposition from critics who say the overhead power lines will mar the state’s natural landscape, and lower property values. Supporters say the hydropower will help decrease the region’s high electricity costs and bring jobs to the state.

Who’s on board

As Northern Pass draws continued controversy, so too does the state’s permitting process.

SEC officials organized the Wednesday tour and said anyone was allowed to attend the site inspections.

The schedule was posted on the SEC website a week in advance and published in the Union Leader, said SEC Administrator Pamela Monroe. The tour began at 9:30 a.m. in Concord and wrapped at 2:40 p.m.

Monroe said she chose the 13 tour locations in Concord, Pembroke, Allenstown and Deerfield based on input from Northern Pass, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and public comment. Project officials were on the bus to answer questions, and provide visual simulations of what the proposed transmission line would look like in certain spots.

City Councilor Candace Bouchard, on the city’s Northern Pass subcommittee, found out about the tour at a city council meeting two days ahead of time. Northern Pass would span 8 miles overhead through Concord, and the city council recommends the project be buried here.

Bouchard said the bus tour was beneficial to view the proposed route through Concord. But she wondered why the group looked at the Loudon Road crossing from Applebee’s.

“From the angle they had,” she said. “I don’t think it really showed the visual impact on the north side of Loudon Road, and how tall those poles are going to be.”

In a letter to the SEC, the Deerfield board of selectmen suggested the committee visit 16 locations in town with “historic, aesthetic, environmental and economic significance” that would be affected by Northern Pass.

Deerfield residents have vocally opposed the project, which would run seven miles overhead through town. Three years ago, the town voted by a two-thirds majority to oppose the electric transmission line.

The SEC tour visited two of the locations on the selectboard’s list and got out of the bus at one, the schedule shows.

“We made some suggestions,” said Deerfield Selectman Andrew Robertson. “I was not aware there was the ability of the selectboard to be included in the tour.”

Public access

A range of people, including SEC members, Bouchard, Arnold and Northern Pass officials, went on the tour. But there’s no way to verify who was in attendance because the SEC did not keep a sign-in sheet or require participants wear name tags.

While preference for open bus seats was given to Merrimack and Rockingham County intervenors “on a first-come, first-served basis,” the site inspection notice said members of the public could attend “at their own risk and expense.”

“As a public body, the SEC made it clear that the tours were open to other interested parties, and several attended,” said Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray. The buses had seats available for the Wednesday tour and were not full, he said.

Exchanges between the committee, attendees and Northern Pass representatives were not accessible to people who weren’t on the bus.

The group got off the tour buses at three stops in Concord: Turtle Pond, Applebee’s and the Home Depot parking lot. But at four other locations in the city – Mountain Road, Shaker Road, Portsmouth Street and Industrial Drive –the vehicles pulled off to the side of the road for several minutes and Northern Pass representatives answered questions inside.

While the exchanges were broadcast by radio between the two buses, members of the public who showed up to those stops didn’t hear the audio. Meeting minutes were not taken, Monroe said.

Running short on time, the group skipped scheduled stops in Pembroke and Allenstown, including one through a residential development off Chestnut Drive, Arnold said.

Anti-Northern Pass protesters appeared at several Concord locations along the tour route. At the Turtle Pond stop, several demonstrators stood near the SEC group and held signs.

“We want them to know we’re opposed to the project,” said Susan Woodard, a Concord resident who trailed the tour through the northern part of the city.

It’s not clear whether the SEC will have any more site visits. The tours are paid for by Northern Pass, and convened by the committee, or an SEC subcommittee, if it chooses. The SEC chairman sets parameters and restrictions for the tours, under the committee’s rules.

“This is the last one that is scheduled for right now,” Monroe said. The committee has already toured other sections of the proposed line north of Concord.

Counsel for the public Peter Roth anticipates more site visits. “It’s more than just a hope, I intend to make that happen,” he said.

Northern Pass officials said the company remains open.

“We are absolutely in favor of providing the public with a complete picture of our proposal,” Murray said. “If the SEC determines that additional site tours would be beneficial, we are more than happy to do fully participate.”



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