Concord, NH – Beginning a shortened week of SEC hearings, Thursday’s adjudicative hearing once again focuses on potential property, business, and environmental impact of the Northern Pass Project. Thursday’s hearing see witnesses from the Clarksville-Stewartstown and Dummer-Northumberland group, and Municipal Group 3 – South (Concord).
Mr. Beland, a Member of the Clarksville-Stewartstown and Dummer-Northumberland group of witnesses claims to have over 20 years of experience constructing transmission lines. During the Counsel for the Public’s questioning, he states that he believes his personal property value would drop up to a six figure amount, due to what he has seen personally. Though when Attorney Aslin, representing the Counsel for the Public, asked Mr. Beland if he had been made aware of the Northern Pass Project’s option for property owners to be compensated for potential property value losses, Mr. Beland states that he was not aware of this.
During the Applicant’s examination of the witness, Attorney Walker asked Mr. Beland if he knew exactly where the proposed structures would be raised in relation to his property. Mr. Beland responded that he doesn’t know exactly where the structures will be raised, but he had heard from people that the project would hurt his land.
After the lunch break, witnesses were called from Municipal Group 3 – South (Concord). The first questions from Attorney Aslin (Counsel for the Public), had to do with permanent versus temporary mitigation efforts made by the Northern Pass Project. The witness panel indicated that there had not been discussions of mitigation of temporary impacts between themselves and the Applicant. Attorney Aslin then asked the witness panel if they had reviewed the changes that the NPT has made to help mitigate impacts to the Karner Blue butterfly. The witnesses said that they had, but that there is no guarantee that the Karner Blue butterfly would colonize the areas that will be designated as conservation land for the butterfly to colonize.
During the Applicant’s examination of the witness panel, Attorney Needleman, representing the Northern Pass Project, began a line of questioning to establish the project’s extensive coordination with specific municipalities to establish public outreach events. Attorney Needleman presented the Applicant’s municipal outreach summary, showing a list of meetings that were held in Merrimack County to serve as informational sessions for the municipalities that could potentially be impacted by the project (Concord is one of these municipalities).
Attorney Needleman then asked the witnesses about Alton Woods, and if they knew the extent of the clearing that will be done there. The witnesses state that they know about Alton Woods and that they are aware that some clearing has already occurred there.
Later in his line of questioning, Attorney Needleman showed a picture of Alton Woods, that was used by other intervenor parties as an exhibit in the proceedings. The intervenors that had used this picture, had insinuated that it was a photograph of Eversource workers, and offered it as evidence of the disturbance the Applicant would cause in the area if work like that depicted in the photograph was conducted. Attorney Needleman then asked if the Witnesses did any work to figure out who was conducting the work on the area? It became clear that the photograph showing the work being done on Alton Woods wasn’t being performed by Eversource, it was being conducted by Unitil. The Applicant has promised to use more cautious protocol in dealing with areas like Alton Woods, and the kind of work being depicted in the photograph was far more intensive and invasive than work that would be done by Eversource in Alton Woods.
Later in the questioning Attorney Needleman asks specifically about the residents of 41 Hoyt Road, and whether the witnesses knew that the residents had requested EMF testing, and not only did the Applicant conduct the testing at the Applicant’s expense, but that they have been in continued contact with the residents.
Attorney Needleman then turned his attention to a report prepared by Witness Beth Fenstermacher. Needleman established that Ms. Fenstermacher only performed a ground/field analysis, and has never worked on a transmission line analysis before. Attorney Needleman then showed an exhibit entered by the Joint Municipal Intervenor Group. The exhibit shows a color coded impact key. The key shows five colors that the authors of the report used to describe different levels of impact to the proposed project area. Attorney Needleman then asked if there was anywhere else in her testimony or exhibits that gives further descriptions on how the witnesses came to the conclusions displayed on the chart. Ms. Fenstermacher stated that she was not sure. Needleman then asked Ms. Fenstermatcher if, before submitting her testimony, she was aware of the difference between “tree removal,” and “tree trimming.” Ms. Fenstermatcher states that she did not know the difference, and would have to revisit her testimony to see if she was submitting inaccurate information in her report. This means that the impacts of the project that she testified to could be inaccurate, as she labeled and analyzed places where trees would simply be trimmed, as full tree removals – drastically and inaccurately increasing the project’s impact in the report.
During Attorney Needleman’s line questioning regarding Witness Fenstermacher’s chart, Needleman asks of the 46 locations which she had rated as “high impact” how many of those landowners had been in contact about her report’s conclusion. Ms. Fenstermacher stated that 4 landowners reached out to her. Further, 3 of the of the 46 landowners are intervenors in the current SEC process. There is no written evidence of any of the other 42 property owners being concerned. Attorney Needleman further pointed out that several property owners even purchased their parcels after the project was announced, and potentially even after the application was submitted. This means that the people that purchased the land knew of the NPT and were not concerned. Attorney Needleman continued the line of questioning by asking if it was fair to say that there had been a tremendous amount of outreach on the part of the Applicant, and on the part of the Sub-Committee to include the public in the process and allow them to voice concerns. Ms. Fenstermacher states that that is a fair thing to say. The Northern Pass Project has fielded over 30 hours of public comments at over 20 different public meetings through the proposed route.
Attorney Walker, representing the Applicant asked the witnesses a series of questions about the Karner blue butterfly. Walker asked if they were aware that due to mitigation efforts planned by the Northern Pass Project, only 1,043 square feet of a possible 28,000 square feet will be touched in order to further protect the wild lupin in the area. The witness stated that it does not eliminate the impact, as the species is threatened, and that any impact on the territory is concerning. Attorney Walker then asked if the witnesses were aware that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service had given their opinion in a biological report in relations to the impacts in this area to the Karner blue butterfly. Ms. Fenstermacher says that she doesn’t know about the report, and hasn’t read it. Attorney Walker presented excerpts of the biological opinion that that stated that the project will cause minor temporary adverse impacts on the species, and its habitats, but that the NPT’s plan to develop 7 acres of undeveloped habitat in Concord that will have long-term benefits for the Karner blue butterfly.
Something not discussed in the hearing, that has great impact on the project is the news update that the Department of Energy has issued the Presidential Permit for the Northern Pass. A Presidential Permit is necessary because the proposed transmission line will cross an international border. This permit allows for the NPT to take clean, low cost hydropower across the border from Canada to connect it with the United States electric grid!