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Northern Pass mulls options  

Credit:  Robert Blechl, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 31 December 2011 ~~

Northern Pass is now mulling its options after the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office reaffirmed a deal that will likely allow the forest society to keep a small sliver of land the company wants for a transmission line right-of-way.

“We are studying other alternatives and taking a look at the response by the attorney general, but no decision has been made in terms of any action taken,” Northern Pass and Public Service of New Hampshire spokesman Martin Murray said Thursday.

At issue was a 24-acre utility right-of-way the company wants for its proposed hydroelectric transmission line.

Last week, the attorney general’s office approved a purchase and sale agreement in which Tillotson Corporation sold that right-of-way, along with a 5,800-acre conservation easement, to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests for $850,000.

Northern Pass had offered $2.2 million for just the sliver of right-of-way, said Murray.

Unless Northern Pass contests the state’s approval and prevails, the forest society will hold the conservation easement as well as have title to the hydroelectric transmission line right-of-way.

Northern Pass representatives said their goal is to keep the proposed Northern Pass transmission line off the land.

What Northern Pass sought was solely the utility right-of-way, said Murray, and therein lies its objection.

“We were not trying to block the sale of the hotel or the conservation easement,” he said. “We supported the conservation easement. We offered $2.2 million for the utility right-of-way, not for the conservation easement.”

In a Dec. 20 letter to the attorney general’s office, Northern Pass asked the state to block the deal between Tillotson trustees and the forest society and hinted at a lawsuit if it goes through.

Northern Pass is a partnership between Hydro-Quebec, Nstar and Northeast Utilities, parent company of PSNH. In the past few months, its subsidiary, Renewable Properties Inc., has spent several million dollars buying the properties of willing Coos County landowners for a right-of-way.

Those properties are near the sought-after parcel around The Balsams, but Murray on Thursday did not say if the 24-acre parcel is crucial to the Northern Pass route that would require some 40 miles of new right-of-way in northern Coos County.

“We are not talking specifically at this time what the shape of a new preferred route is in that part of the state, but certainly if we had been able to secure that small utility right-of-way on The Balsams property it could have been an attractive alternative to consider in terms of the route,” said Murray “If it’s in fact not available, there are other alternatives.”

The Tillotson trustees’ deal with the forest society comes after The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, which was in a trust, was sold Dec. 6 to Daniel Hebert and Daniel Dagesse.

In its letter to the attorney general’s office, Northern Pass said it had been in negotiations for the 24-acre parcel with the trustees since October, but the forest society said it had been in talks with Tillotson Corporation for the land around The Balsams for years.

With the property in a trust, Northern Pass officials said the Tillotson trustees had a fiduciary obligation to take the higher offer that Northern Pass officials said would provide greater benefits to health, social and economic services for North Country residents through the additional revenue.

However, Senior Assistant New Hampshire Attorney General Anthony Blenkinsop, who heads the Charitable Trusts Division, said the transfer of land by the trustees to the forest society is consistent with the purpose and terms of the trust and the sale of the land that is to be conserved is in the best interest of the environment and economy of the North Country, as the trustees had concluded.

The forest society has until Jan. 15 to raise the $850,000 to pay to Tillotson Corporation.

Working on raising the money full-time is Jane Difley, forest society president.

To date, the forest society through its Save The Balsams Landscape campaign has raised $270,000, forest society spokesman Jack Savage said Friday.

“It’s taking an all-out effort, but we will do it,” Difley said, adding that New Year’s week is a big week for donations and people writing checks that she expects will soon arrive and greatly help the society reach its $850,000 goal.

Donations are even coming in from Quebec, said Savage.

“The way PSNH and Northern Pass handled the Balsams situation has clearly triggered people’s indignation,” he said. “It remains to be seen whether or not this has long-term ramifications for the Northern Pass project, but there’s no question that it has angered a whole new group of people.”

On the topic of other transmission lines, the forest society has not objected to the deed to Hebert and Dagesse that sets aside a perpetual easement for a wind farm parcel, said Murray.

Transmission lines for the wind turbines in the southern region of the land would be needed to connect the turbines to the grid, said Murray, and would have a greater visual impact around The Balsams than would a Northern Pass hydroelectric transmission line.

Difley said there is a difference between high-power transmission lines for 180-feet towers and those lines for small wind turbines.

Source:  Robert Blechl, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 31 December 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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