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Hassan won’t ask for vote on new members of utility project evaluation panel

CONCORD – Gov. Maggie Hassan is not expected to ask the Executive Council to vote Wednesday on her two nominations to the Site Evaluation Committee, which decides on major utility projects such as wind farms and the Northern Pass transmission project.

From the time Hassan nominated Sen. Bob Odell, R-New London, and Rep. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, four weeks ago, opposition came from wind farm and Northern Pass opponents.

District 3 Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, said he would like to see Hassan move on and submit two other nominees to the SEC.

“At this point, we’re wasting time. This is a really important commission and we really should be moving on,” Sununu said. “If the votes were there. we would be doing that.”

Echoing the governor’s words when she told councilors two weeks ago she would not bring the nominations to a vote, Hassan spokesman William Hinkle said: “Governor Hassan believes that the new makeup of the committee is critical to ensuring that the siting process for new energy projects is impartial, balanced and includes perspectives of all stakeholders, and she wants the public positions to be filled as soon as possible so that the new committee can begin its important work.”

Northern Pass opponent Dolly McPhaul of Sugar Hill wrote a letter to the five executive councilors Tuesday voicing her opposition to the two nominees and the way the nominations have been handled by the governor’s office, saying all discussions with councilors should be in a public forum.

McPhaul was also concerned whether the nominees would be impartial given Odell’s support for the Lempster Mountain Wind Farm Project, and claimed Hassan appears to be stacking the committee with Northern Pass supporters.

“You all NEED to do your job as stated on the website and not be a mouthpiece for the governor. You must safeguard the people, as is your duty,” McPhaul wrote to the councilors.

Other opponents have questioned whether the two soon-to-be-retired lawmakers really fit the definition of public members called for in Senate Bill 245, which passed this year. The Site Evaluation Committee is mostly made up of state agency department heads.

Three of the five councilors raised the issue before the council’s Oct. 1 meeting.

District 1 Councilor Joseph Kenney, R-Wakefield, said the two nominees “are way too close to the inner circle,” and he suggested Hassan “look outside state government. We need to have a cooling-off period.”

Under the law, Hassan also nominates an attorney to the board, but she has said finding someone willing to serve on the board has been difficult. No nomination is expected today.

The reappointment of Jane Young as associate attorney general is expected to receive some discussion due to her involvement in the investigation of former Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams.

The council meets at 10 a.m. in Executive Council Chambers at the State House.