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Northern Pass path power line route in ‘final stages’

Northern Pass officials say they hope to announce a new route for the controversial power-line project this month, boosted by a recent land-leasing deal that allows for high-voltage transmission lines either above or below ground.

But the project’s chief foe, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, doesn’t believe the project can meet that schedule for acquiring a contiguous 40-mile route needed between Groveton and the Canadian border.

“Based on what they’ve acquired so far, we’re in the process of blocking them,” said Jack Savage, the society’s vice president of communications/outreach. “They’re in the process of trying to find a way around it, and they have a long way to go.”

Savage said the situation is “very much like a game of chess. If we lose, New Hampshire stands to get rooked.”

At stake is a $1.2 billion project to bring 1,200 megawatts of hydro-electricity into the New England grid. It would transmit power on 140 miles of existing right of way, but needs to link a 40-mile corridor of North Country real estate to connect with the existing infrastructure in Groveton.

Earlier plans called for the project to become operational in 2015, but delays with finding an acceptable route have pushed that back to “late 2016 or early 2017,” Martin Murray, a Northern Pass spokesman, said in an email Saturday.

Last year, many residents living on or near a proposed route complained that the towers holding the lines would hurt tourism and the area’s quality of life. Northern Pass officials have worked to buy properties to create the required 40-mile route, part of an effort they said would bring cheaper electricity to New Hampshire and New England.

“The fact is we’ve been able to achieve great progress by working with willing sellers and operating in the free market to create this new route, which is what policymakers and public asked us to do,” another Northern Pass spokesman, Michael Skelton, said in an email.

“Our primary goal in designing the new route all along has been to address potential visual impacts, which was the primary concern some expressed with the original proposal,” Skelton said. “Our focus right now is on the final stages of the new route and preparing for further conversations with local communities and the state on how best to proceed. There is significant work to be done at the local, state and federal levels, and we intend to take the necessary time for discussions with all of the key stakeholders.”

Last month, Northern Pass officials announced the project had finalized a lease agreement with Wagner Forest Management “as part of its efforts to optimize route options through northern New Hampshire. This agreement can support more than 20 miles of the project’s corridor through the eastern portion of northern Coos County.”

The initial lease deal, which runs from last month to no later than July 1, 2017, allows for Northern Pass to evaluate the property for construction and operation of power lines. Northern Pass would have the option of constructing and operating the lines through the year 2110, according to records filed at the Coos County Registry of Deeds in Lancaster.

The lease also gives the project until July 2017 to evaluate whether a wind energy project would work. Another agreement would need to be inked to allow for a “wind energy facility,” according to the property records.

Murray said there were no current plans for a wind energy operation there.

“The lease provisions related to evaluating wind development are not at all connected to Northern Pass,” Murray said in his email Saturday. “The lease does not represent a plan to develop a wind project. Rather, the lease allows for further study to determine if such a project would be feasible in the future. There are no immediate plans for such a study.”

The “notice of lease” said the property is in Dummer, Dixville, Dix’s Grant and Millsfield.

Savage said the property is generally east of the Balsams property and about seven miles from the original Northern Pass route.

The deal is between Renewable Properties Inc., a Manchester company acquiring land on Northern Pass’s behalf, and Bayroot LLC. The Lyme-based Wagner company works on behalf of its client and property owner, Bayroot, a timber management organization.

Northern Pass is a joint effort by Hydro-Quebec and Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire.

“Our recent jobs meetings in the North Country,” Skelton said, “showed that there is great interest in the economic benefits The Northern Pass has to offer New Hampshire.”