Critics of Northern Pass project revel in proposal’s denial

  • Nick Paul (left) of Concord and Tim Madsen of Manchester protest with three others from the group Protect the Granite State outside a hearing by the state's Site Evaluation Committee for the Northern Pass project on April 13 in Concord. AP

  • Mark McCullock of North Stratford speaks to the site evaluation committee during a public comment hearing regarding Northern Pass in Concord on Thursday, July 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 2/1/2018 11:10:23 PM

Dolly McPhaul, a strong, persistent voice in the fight against Northern Pass, left our newsroom Thursday morning fearing she’d lost the fight.

“I would have said the chances were only 30 or 40 percent that this would have gotten turned down,” McPhaul said later by phone.

Instead, just a few hours after meeting with our editorial board to discuss the looming Site Evaluation Committee vote, McPhaul was hugging people in her local grocery store in Sugar Hill, stunned to learn that she and others had won their seven-year fight to derail Northern Pass.

By a 7-0 vote, the SEC denied the application, saying the massive energy project could negatively impact the state’s property values and tourism industry, and, suddenly, McPhaul sounded like an Oscar winner delivering her acceptance speech, worried she’d forget to thank everyone involved in the fight.

“I’m so afraid I’m going to miss someone,” McPhaul said. “There are so many names, it goes on and on. The farmer who turned down millions of dollars. I’m feeling so guilty. I don’t know what to tell you.”

The farmer’s name is Roderick McAllaster, and he refused to sell his land and allow it to become part of this 192-mile power trail. Northern Pass backer Eversource, the state’s largest electric utility, had been trying to sell the idea of transmitting hydroelectric power from Quebec to New England since, it seemed, the beginning of time.

The route here would have gone through 30 communities from Pittsburg to Deerfield, and don’t try telling Eversource that it wasn’t a good idea.

Late Thursday the company vowed to fight on, saying it will try to convince the SEC to change its mind. An appeal is also possible.

Eversource also had some strong language aimed at the SEC.

“We are shocked and outraged by today’s SEC outcome,” the statement reads. “The process failed to comply with New Hampshire law and did not reflect the substantial evidence on the record.”

In response, people like McPhaul had, essentially, one word:


The passion ran deep among the anti-Northern Pass camp, their adrenaline pumping year after year. The SEC’s quick decision – the group had set a Feb. 23 deadline, meaning 12 days of deliberations – was a clear sign that this was a slam dunk in their minds.

And McPhaul’s 90-minute drive to the Monitor to speak with our editors was a clear signal that she was mapping out her final counteroffensive, concerned that her blood, sweat and tears had not paid off.

She rarely missed a meeting or the opportunity to stand and speak, leading me to compare McPhaul to a pit bull. She said I was on the right track.

“I’ve been called that,” McPhaul told me. “But I have to tell you, only when it’s a matter of right and wrong. I am very easygoing and I love life and people, but this happens when there is something wrong, especially if someone lies and if they’re not taking care of people.”

She worried that all those megawatts carried over all those miles could be dangerous.

“You’re dealing with a heck of a lot of power,” McPhaul said, “and freak accidents happen and they were not sure how they were going to go under the Gale River in Franconia. They did not have a set plan. You are burning that amount of power in front of schools and homes, and the surveys were not done right.”

McPhaul smelled a rat right from the start, and she was not shy about sharing her thoughts. “It seemed to me they had no idea what they were doing,” she said.

Through the long journey, she worried about palms being greased, and not just with money but with the promise of jobs. She wondered about the safety of splice vaults. She worried that we were going to get stuck with the bill after Hydro-Quebec said it was not going to pay. She worried about the power purchase agreement Eversource said it had without proving it. She worried about property values falling.

“Their experts said there was not going to be a devaluation of property because of the towers,” McPhaul said. “Of course there is. Ask a real estate appraiser. Are you going to buy a house with a tower in front of it?”

She said she spoke to tourists, from as far away as California and Europe, who asked her to explain what those orange signs meant.

“They would be horrified when told,” McPhaul said. “They said they would not be coming back if that happens. No one is going to pay to take a vacation to look at towers.”

McPhaul spoke about the grass-roots movement, then worried I was focusing too much on her. Then came the laundry list of names she insisted I use:

Kris Pastoriza of Easton, who was arrested for staging a sit-in to protest Northern Pass; and Susan Schibanoff of Easton; and Nancy Martland of Sugar Hill; and longtime columnist John Harrigan; and state Reps. Suzanne Smith and Howard Moffett; and former state Rep. Susan Ford; and Will Abbott and Jack Savage and Jane Difley, all of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

In fact, McPhaul will be happy to learn that the society sent out a press release, joining her voice.

“This stands as a great victory for New Hampshire, our forests and our landscape,” said Difley, the president. “It’s been a long, arduous battle, but New Hampshire has always been worth it.”

“The SEC made the right decision,” said Savage, the society’s vice president for communications. “They clearly listened to the people and the communities who would be impacted by this project.”

Now we wait. Goliath has lots of money to continue the fight, but David has shown that the slingshot can be mightier than the dollar.

“We will not go away,” McPhaul insisted. “At first I was stunned, I could not really grasp it. But it’s not a matter of what I thought was right.

“It was the right thing to do.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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