LANCASTER, N.H. – A bright orange balloon punctuated an otherwise cloudy morning Sunday, as it floated 135 feet off the ground at the Hatfield farm.
It represents the height of the tallest of the structures that would be used in the proposed Northern Pass project to transmit hydroelectricity from Quebec to southern New England.
Since the project was unveiled last fall, it has been one of the most talked-about topics in the North Country, coloring the land in blaze orange, the color of the opposition.
Sunday morning, a bright orange balloon bobbed in the breeze and the two men floating it said they expect many people who could view it will be surprised.
“It was time for a visual,” said Sonny Martin of North Road in Lancaster and owner of the local Agway store.
By mid-morning, the balloon was raised to a height of 135 feet, the same height that some of the taller towers would be in the proposed, $1 billion Northern Pass project. The plan is a joint venture between Hydro Quebec, NSTAR and Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire and aims to develop a high voltage line transmitting 1,200 megawatts of electricity from the Canadian border at Pittsburg, 180 miles to Deerfield.
It has been a contentious issue in the North Country, where at least 40 miles of new rights of way will have to be developed, to make way for the transmission towers.
“Everyone has been talking about the towers and we wanted to give people an idea of the height,” said Martin.
Northern Pass last month published a booklet of “visual simulations,” showing before and after photos of some of the viewscapes in towns where the corridor is proposed. According to information provided, the most common height of the structures in the new right of way between Pittsburg and Groveton would 85 to 90 feet and from Groveton to Franklin, 80 to 90 feet. Between Franklin and Deerfield, which already has a transmission corridor, the height is proposed at between 90 and 110 feet, to account for narrow sections of it.
After receiving hundreds of dollars in donations, Martin and Rick Samson of Stewartstown, who are both opposed to the plan, bought the bright orange balloon, some helium tanks and lengths of rope.
They measured out 121 feet of rope that drops from the center of the balloon. With allowance for the 10 foot balloon and four feet of the harness, the float rises to 135 feet. It’s filled with two and half tanks of helium.
Sunday’s flight went up just off U.S. Route 2 east of downtown Lancaster, from the home and farm of Steve and Jenn Hatfield, which is on the proposed route of the Northern Pass. There is an existing powerline that goes through the property, but the towers don’t rise much beyond the treeline.
“I’ve climbed 100-foot towers before and I thought I could visualize what (the proposed transmission line) would look like,” Samson said. “But when I saw the balloon up there, it was worse than I thought.”
Much of the debate throughout the North Country in the past nine months has been what a corridor of towers would do to a region that struggles with having a stable economy and one of its greatest assets – the views of its forests, fields and mountains.
The two men say they hope that throughout the summer, they, and their balloon, will be invited to float it in other communities along the proposed route of the Northern Pass.
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