As 2013 unfolds, Northern Pass continues to make land purchases in Coos County and recently made its most expensive purchase yet, according to property records.
The transaction posted Jan. 11 shows that Northern Pass, through its land-buying subsidiary Renewable Properties Inc., paid $5 million for 320 acres of land in Clarksville.
The land, along the north side of Clarksville Pond Road, was sold by Chad, Corey, Rebekah, Gabriel and Derek Sylvestre, of Clarksville, and Tyann Sylvestre, of Newmarket.
On Thursday, representatives of the New Hampshire Forest Society, which is currently buying land in Coos to block Northern Pass, said they expected the Clarksville purchase but said it does not move the company any closer to its goal.
“That particular transaction does nothing to help them solve their problems, the gaps that they have, the permanent gaps, in their intended route,” said Forest Society spokesman Jack Savage. “It doesn’t bridge any gaps for them where we have them blocked.”
Savage believes that Northeast Utilities (NU), partner in Northern Pass with Hydro-Quebec, made the purchase in an ongoing effort to maintain its agreement with Hydro-Quebec.
“Every time they spend money like that it is a big show to suggest to their project partners in Canada that they are making progress,” he said. “It’s an expensive way to do it.”
In the big picture, however, $5 million as part of an estimated $1.2 billion project is not much, said Savage.
To date, Northern Pass has made about $30 million in known land and easement purchases in Coos as it tries to piece together the 40-plus miles of new transmission line right-of-way needed in the county.
The new right-of-way would connect with 140 miles of existing right-of-way owned by Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), parent company of NU.
As currently proposed, the Northern Pass Transmission line, which would import 1,200 megawatts of mostly hydro power from Canada, would entail more than 1,000 steel towers at least 85 feet high, with a 10-mile segment going along the existing PSNH right-of-way through White Mountain National Forest.
NU/PSNH would make its money by leasing the lines to Hydro-Quebec and collecting land-based payments. Hydro-Quebec would make its money by selling its power on the New England power grid.
On Thursday, NU/Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray declined to comment on the Clarksville purchase or say specifically if the company is seeing landowners asking more for their land, if it predicts it will pay more for land as the route develops and if it has an alternate plan or strategy if it runs into any landowners refusing to sell needed pieces of land.
“We have been working successfully with a number of property owners to acquire the land or easements necessary to propose a new route in the area north of Groveton where there are no existing transmission lines,” Murray stated in an e-mail.
Murray noted the specific questions asked will be addressed as part of Northern Pass’s forthcoming announcement regarding the new proposed route that he said the company has identified.
Northern Pass said several times in 2011 and 2012 it would soon be announcing a new route only to postpone it.
Savage, on Thursday, remained skeptical.
“Their intended route as we mapped it out is what they hope to pursue,” said Savage. “There is no other secret route. They just spent $5 million to complete a transaction along that route and are no less blocked than they were before.”
In August, the Forest Society announced a $2.5 million Trees Not Towers blocking campaign that involves four landowners who refuse to sell to Northern Pass but are willing to work with the Forest Society to put their land in perpetual conservation easements.
One of those landowners is Rod McAllaster, of Stewartstown who refused to sell 362 acres after an offer of $4 million.
In December, the Forest Society closed on one of the four properties it needs to block Northern Pass and has three more closings to make.
“We’re halfway there, at $1.25 million with $1.25 million to go,” said Savage. “We are still fundraising, and assuming we raise the money, will be closing on the others over the course of the winter.”
The Forest Society is also speaking with other landowners and has recently completed a transaction for an option to acquire a donated conservation easement of 366 acres around Bear Rock Road in Stewartstown owned Brad and Daryl Thompson.
“Essentially, we have stymied [Northern Pass’s] attempts to go around the McAllaster property,” said Savage.
On Thursday, Brad Thompson said, “We feel some things you can’t put a dollar value on and one is the property we purchased in Stewartstown to put our retirement home on.”
The easement donated by the Thompsons forever guarantees that no transmission lines will cross their land.
While Northern Pass land purchases make news, not reported on as widely are those landowners refusing to sell, said Thompson.
“I know a good amount of people who are saying no,” he said.
In a statement regarding their easement, the Thompsons said, “We are not only concerned for our scenic views in the North Country, but equally concerned for the rest of our state.
“If we don’t take a stand now, more projects like Northern Pass will be proposed and New Hampshire will be criss-crossed with power lines,” they said. “If we can play a small part in blocking this project, it will be well worth our efforts.”
Northern Pass needs at least two dozen state and federal permits to go through. Murray has said the permitting will be completed in 2014, but project opponents, such as the Conservation Law Foundation, said the permitting for a project the size of Northern Pass is a process that will take about five years.
As the Northern Pass proposal enters a new year, Murray declined to say if NU as a vendor has an exclusivity agreement with Hydro-Quebec.
With NU and Hydro-Quebec executives refusing to provide specifics about the project, it is unknown if Hydro-Quebec in the future would look at another vendor or at an alternative to Northern Pass.
NU is pushing clean energy, competitively priced power and construction jobs as among the project’s benefits.
Opponents, many of whom are pushing for burial of the lines, argue Northern Pass as proposed would destroy the region’s scenic resources, reduce tourism and property values and pose a health hazard to those living near it.
A call placed Thursday to the Sylvestres was not immediately returned.