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DOE told to terminate Northern Pass contractor

CONCORD – The Conservation Law Foundation is calling “tainted” the critical federal environmental review process for the Northern Pass.

On Wednesday it asked the Department of Energy to terminate the third-party contractors – SE Group, Lucinda Low Swartz and Ecology and Environment Inc. – claiming they were hand-picked by Northern Pass and cannot be objective.

This is the second time CLF has asked DOE to terminate the contractor for the project.

In March 2011, Normandeau Associates withdrew voluntarily from the role after conflicts related to past work for Northeast Utilities were brought to light by CLF.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen also pushed for the change.

“We’re back before them with the same request,” said Christophe Courchesne, staff attorney in the New Hampshire office of CLF.

Faryl Ury, spokesman for Shaheen, said the Democrat’s office had received the information Wednesday.

“The concerns raised are troubling. Our office is in contact with CLF and is looking more closely into the matter,” she said.

Mike Skelton, spokesman for Northern Pass, said CLF’s goal is to slow or stop the project.

“Today’s release represents an attempt by CLF to preemptively discredit and delay the federal process. We are focused on doing the work necessary to file an amended application with the Department of Energy by the end of this year.”

Department of Energy officials did not respond for a request for comment Wednesday.

Courchesne said the documents uncover “abdication by DOE of important, non-delegable responsibilities to the permit applicant … and significant and improper influence over the permitting process by the permit applicant.”

Specifically, CLF said the documents show that Mary Anne Sullivan, an attorney for Northern Pass and once a staff attorney at DOE, asked the agency to consider the SE Group for the job.

The review is looking at whether Northern Pass should be placed alongside the Champlain-Hudson Power Express, which would deliver Hydro-Quebec power to the grid from Canada under water and ground. Lucinda Low Swartz also works for that project.

CLF waited one year for the DOE to respond to its federal Freedom of Information Action request to see all the documents related to the hiring of the third-party contractor. It also asked to see the contract, but never received it.

That means they don’t have it, Courchesne said.

“That is troubling in and of itself,” he said.

While the contractor works for the DOE, it is paid by Northern Pass.

The Northern Pass is a proposed $1.1 billion hydro power transmission project that would deliver 1,200 megawatts of electricity to the New England power grid using above-ground, high-voltage lines. It is a joint venture between Hydro-Quebec and Northeast Utilities.

NU is the parent company to Public Service of New Hampshire.

Courchesne noted that Northeast Utilities has said it will likely have a proposed northern route for the project by the end of this year and is still acquiring property in Coos County.

Courchesne said that gives DOE another 2 1/2 months to find a new contractor.

“We felt there is an urgent need to put this in front of the public,” he said.