Concord, NH – Tuesday’s SEC adjudicative hearings focused again on the potential environmental impact of the proposed Northern Pass project.
Attorney Walker representing the Northern Pass project began the day’s examination of the witnesses. Attorney Walker begins by asking if the witnesses disagree with a conclusion made by the Department of the Interior that 5 specific species will not be harmed – the witnesses say they cannot disagree with that statement.
Attorney Walker continues by asking about the impact to the Karner blue butterfly, an at risk butterfly species. Attorney Walker introduces the conclusion made by the Fish and Wildlife Service – their conclusion states that the Northern Pass Project, as proposed, is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Karner Blue butterfly. Witness Mr. Amaral agrees, but stipulates that this determination only means that the project won’t cause the butterfly to go extinct. The panel affirms that they believe that positive efforts are being made to avoid and minimize impacts. They also mention that the Northern Pass project has done a great job to minimize impact to lupine by moving several structures in what was referred to as “Very positive project development.” Ultimately the Environmental Panel’s witness Mr. Amaral cannot say that there will be an unreasonable adverse impact on the Karner blue butterfly or lupine.
Further questioning by Attorney Walker indicates the efforts that have been developed and agreed to by the Northern Pass project to protect wildlife in the suggested project area. These impact mitigators had been suggested by the “Good Forestry Guide” provided by Fish and Game. Attorney Walker also addresses the concern that the project would affect marten habitat in high elevation areas, asking whether the witnesses were aware of the conclusion by Fish and Wildlife that the project is not likely to impact martens. Attorney Walker also presents a condition in the DES final decision that states that the Northern Pass Project will even provide a certified/qualified environmental monitor who will be tasked with coordinating with the DES Wetland Program, and submitting reports with photographs to ensure compliance, and will be on hand to brief and instruct construction teams on environmental conservation and monitoring in proposed construction areas.
During the SEC’s questions to the witness panel, committee member Dandeneau asks whether the panel believes that potentially burying the line would be less damaging in general. The witnesses state that in certain areas, burying the proposed transmission line could, in fact, be more impactful.
After the lunch break, Dr. Publicover took the witness stand to testify regarding environmental impacts, questions focused on impacts to rare natural communities, such as the northern hardwood seepage forests, further questioning related to the Pemigewasset River, and Dr. Publicover’s opinion on the mitigation attempts made by the Northern Pass Project. Attorneys Fish and Bisbee represented the applicant’s examination of the witness. Though Dr. Publicover states that he finds that plant and wildlife communities are connected, he admits that he had not done any studies on wildlife in regards to the proposed project.
Attorney Bisbee asks Dr. Publicover a series of questions regarding conditions that the DES provided to the Northern Pass Project in a recent decision – specifically condition 7 in the decision which speaks to avoidance, minimization, and mitigation efforts being coordinated and finalized with Fish and Game. Dr. Publicover states that he has not yet read the updated reports. Attorney Bisbee follows this line of questioning by asking whether the NHB would agree to something if they believed it would produce an unreasonable adverse effect. Through further questioning Dr. Publicover indicates that he believes that further conditions should have been applied to the proposed project by the DES, though the witness states that he finds the conditions inadequate but based on the scope of the DES’ jurisdiction, he understands the decision they made.