December 18, 2010

Wrecking What Little We Have Left

by John Harrigan

Well, for this one I had to wait to get myself even more indignant. I’ve been biding my time on this whole powerline issue, figuring that I should just shut up and let other people have their say. And boy, have they. Never in my 63 years on the planet have I seen North Country friends and neighbors so indignant about an issue as the proposed gigantic powerline to connect supposedly “green” Quebec Hydro power to the insatiable power-hungry masses to the south.

(This project evidently seems to be not even a blip on the radar screen for media and consumers to the south. It would involve a whole new 40-mile or so “right of way”---read that “scar,”---smack down through the Connecticut Lakes headwaters and the Pittsburg-Colebrook-Stratford-Lancaster region, 150 feet or more wide, with towers from 90 to 135 feet tall.)

So having cranked myself up to get even more indignant, and having written about this monstrous proposal only once, and no longer being able to keep my mouth shut, I went up the road from the house to the T where South Hill meets the Chet Noyes Road. This story, for the uninitiated, takes place in Colebrook, which is where I live---smack in the middle of Powerline Plan.

This T is the place where the old roads met. Well, where two out of the three old roads still meet. The T overlooks some of the most beautiful country left in the Northeast. This is where the powerline would go.

There was a stagecoach tavern here at the T, which was then a cross. Its site is in between the South Hill Cemetery and where Boots Bouchard lives. There are Balm of Gileads around the stone foundation of the tavern. A discerning eye can see where South Hill Road met North Hill Road, across Bear Rock Valley. Old Metallak, the last chief of the Coashaukees, from which Coös County (pronounced Co-oss) got its name, is buried right there on North Hill. It’s near Angevines’. I wonder how near to Metallak’s grave the powerline would pass. If I were a Coashaukee, and I often feel that I am, I’d be singing the Indian Death Song.

This is the probable place where, if this huge powerline project being planned, which few in the state Down Below seem to comprehend, is planned to go. I stood there on South Hill, looking at North Hill, and thinking about the unthinking consumers far below the notches. How can such an abomination as this gigantic powerline be actually considered? Do the people who take such pleasure in carbon-trading and supposed “sustainable” and “green” anything to reach their 25 percent whatever not have a clue about the trade-off?

(I cannot help myself envisioning people far removed from the reality of the landscape linking arms and swaying and singing “Kumbaya.” Sorry. But do the 25-percent-“green” people have any clue about the price the Montagnais and the Naskapi and the Cree paid for the supposedly “green” hydro-power that we’re supposed to feel good about? This extends to unthinking consumers far below Churchill Falls and the huge hydro-project dams and impoundments at Hudson Bay and elsewhere in the Far North. Who cares? Well, I’ve been there, and seen the price.)

We here in the North Country are at rope’s end. Having lost about all of our industry and not having leadership and knowledge and help from Concord and beyond to explore and fund new ways to make things, which is the way to the future, we have only the landscape left, which is our definition, our heritage, our livelihood, and our meager future. Until we can find a way to begin making things again.

We look to leadership to do better things than bicker about adding another lane to I-93 or grin and pose about another shopping mall or snip a ribbon on a powerline transit station in Franklin (are you reading this, Governor Lynch?). We look for leadership about geography, and history, and territory, and stewardship of the landscape, and where we live.

This powerline proposal is, in the best word I can sum up, horrendous. We should not suffer the loss of our last asset, our beauty and scenery and place of self and place, because of the accident of geography as to where we live. We should not suffer because we happen to exist in an apex, where Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Lower Canada meet, because we are “in the way.”

This isn’t a Not In My Back Yard issue. It is far beyond that. It’s everyone’s back yard, just as the Gulf oil spill was and is everyone’s back yard. This is an issue of Down Below politicians and decision-makers and consumers simply not being aware that there are a lot of miles and scenery and people and heritage and history and economic stakes at risk with this foolish and careless and needless plan to carve a horrendous swath of beautiful country out to satisfy the never-ending consumptive habits of people far to the south.

It is not just that the few jobs (timber clearing, flag-waving) will go to the locals for flash-in the-pan (i.e., short-lived) “economic benefits.” It is not just that the so pathetically hyped town taxes will fall victim to depreciation, which they will. It is not just that the best-paying jobs during the short-lived construction jobs will go to high-tech, specialty firms that will bring in their labor forces from elsewhere. And it is certainly not just that the short-lived spin-off money the area will receive will go for flipping burgers and turning sheets.

There is an existing right of way for hydro power from Canada, down through northeastern Vermont. It was conceived, won and built at great cost. The fact that it went through territory mostly uninhabited and owned mostly by major timber companies made it far easier and more simple than the current proposal, which will involve hundreds of easements and attendant legal wranglings, not to mention the wreckage of some of the most beautiful (and most visited) scenery in the East.

What’s this about? It’s about forcing the utilities’ hand and making them justify not widening the existing corridor down through Vermont to Franklin to tie into the NEPOOL grid, where all of the power and money are going anyway.

But in the end, it is about this spectacular region’s beauty, heritage, and pride. How could anyone conceive of such an offense?

(This column runs in a dozen weekly papers covering the northern two-thirds of New Hampshire and parts of Maine and Vermont. John Harrigan’s address: Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576, or

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