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Executive councilors raise questions about Hassan nominations

CONCORD – Executive councilors say they have concerns about Gov. Maggie Hassan’s nomination of two retiring lawmakers to the panel that has power over new energy projects.

While both Sen. Bob Odell, R-New London, and Rep. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, are outstanding public servants, District 1 Councilor Joseph Kenney, R-Wakefield, said, “It’s the wrong time and the wrong board.”

Kenney said he has heard from hundreds of constituents. Odell’s nomination to the Site Evaluation Committee did not sit well with many, due largely to his support for the state’s first wind farm in his former hometown of Lempster.

Several grassroots groups, including Wind Watch and Wind-Action, began inundating councilors – who vote Wednesday on the nominations – with emails. Northern Pass transmission project opponents also were concerned.

Hassan’s office reiterated support for the nominees over the weekend.

“As well-respected, retiring legislators, Bob Odell and Amanda Merrill have invaluable experience representing the views of the public on the important issues that face the SEC, including their work as members of energy and environment committees,” said Hassan press secretary William Hinkle.

Lawmakers decided last year the committee should take time out so new criteria could be developed, procedures could be streamlined and more clearly defined, and the makeup of the committee could be changed by dropping some state department heads – who used to constitute the majority – and adding public members. Odell would be the public member of the committee and Merrill the alternate.

“I appreciate they will not be state officials going forward, but I still go back to the idea they were there when the legislation and the policy were created and were part of the debate in this matter,” District 3 Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields,

Odell is vice chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

District 3 Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, expressed similar concerns about Odell and Merrill not being public members, although she said Friday she has yet to make up her mind how she will vote.

“If we truly want a member of the public on the committee,” she asked, “is a lawmaker considered a member of the public?”

The two other councilors, District 4 Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, and District 2 Councilor Colin Van Ostern, D-Concord, said they are more concerned about if the two candidates will be fair-minded about proposed projects and look out for the interests of the entire state.

Pappas said he is leaning toward confirming Odell at Wednesday’s meeting.

“The most important thing we need on the SEC is someone who calls balls and strikes, someone who is impartial,” he said. “I believe Sen. Odell has that ability and the respect from both sides of the aisle.”

Van Ostern said he has yet to decide. “The question simply is if he has fairness of mind and will look out for vast interests of the people of the state,” Van Ostern said.

The council meets Wednesday at the New Hampshire Food Bank facility in Manchester at 10 a.m.