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New Hampshire Senate blocks eminent domain for Northern Pass

CONCORD, N.H. – The state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would prevent the controversial Northern Pass power transmission project from taking property by eminent domain.

The near-unanimous measure combines language in the state constitution and existing law to guarantee private property rights against private acquisition.

“While public purposes sometimes require the taking of private property by eminent domain as a last resort, it is completely inappropriate that New Hampshire citizens should live in fear of taking by private projects for private gain,” said Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-District 2.

The Northern Pass project would bring electrical power to New England by cutting a transmission line through New Hampshire. Opponents of the $1 billion project who do not want to sell their land have been concerned the company could ultimately take the property through eminent domain.

“This is our land,” said Karen Placey, who owns land in West Stewartstown. “This is something that means something to us, and that’s it. We don’t want to sell. We don’t want it taken, so I feel good about this today.”

The bill passed 23-1, with Derry Republican Sen. Jim Rausch the only no vote, saying he felt the constitution already provided adequate property protection.

“It moves the ball forward in the right direction,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-District 3. “There will be more certainty for people in the North Country, so I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Michael Skelton, spokesman for Public Service of New Hampshire, said the vote will have no impact on the utility’s plans.

“The project never planned to use eminent domain,” he said. “The project’s not predicated on eminent domain, and we’re going to continue to work on a route that has the support of underlying property owners.”

The bill now moves on to the House for consideration.