Judge: Northern Pass can bury line under conservation

  • Power lines stretch north from Mary Lee's Northfield home into Salisbury, June 16, 2011. A band of woods obstructs the view from her house to the power lines that run north to south. Lee fears she will lose that buffer if the Northern Pass is built. Alexander Cohn

Monitor staff
Published: 5/31/2016 11:45:42 PM

A Coos County Superior Court judge dealt a blow Tuesday to an environmental group’s contention that Northern Pass doesn’t have the right to bury a transmission line beneath 600 feet of conservation land in Clarksville near the Canadian border.

Judge Lawrence MacLeod ruled against the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which claimed in a lawsuit that Northern Pass needed the organization’s permission to build on its conservation land, known as the Washburn Family Forest.

Northern Pass countered that it doesn’t need the forest society’s authorization because it is proposing the energy project cross the Clarksville property beneath Route 3, a state road.

MacLeod granted summary judgment in favor of Northern Pass. He wrote in an order released Tuesday that the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, not the forest society, has “exclusive jurisdiction over whether to grant (Northern Pass Transmission) the necessary permits and licenses.” The DOT has not yet granted such approvals Northern Pass needs to build beneath Route 3, according to the order.

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 has stirred controversy in the state. Opponents argue the project will mar the state’s landscape and lower property values with tall utility poles and wires. But advocates say the power will help lower energy costs in the region and diversify the fuel mix. The project needs state and federal sign-off, and is currently under review by both permitting authorities.

Officials at Northern Pass, a partnership between Hydro-Quebec and Eversource Energy, applauded the court decision.

“We are pleased the court recognized long-standing New Hampshire law that allows for the use of public roadways for projects like Northern Pass,” said Bill Quinlan, president of Eversource operations in New Hampshire. “We look forward to continuing the permitting process and moving one step closer to delivering the clean energy and economic benefits to New Hampshire and the region.”

Forest Society officials said the decision is a set back, but not the end of the fight.

“The Forest Society is disappointed but not entirely surprised by the Coos County Superior Court’s decision,” spokesman Jack Savage wrote on the organization’s website. “We anticipate pursuing this case, and this issue, further.”

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