March 24, 2011

Seven Hearings: Was Anybody Listening?

Existing HVDC lines in Haverhill, NH.
More than 2,500 people attended seven hearings held by the Department of Energy (DOE) on seven consecutive days in March in seven different New Hampshire towns. The DOE's goal was to hear public input on what should be included in the Environmental Impact Study that would evaluate the environmental, economic and social impacts of the proposed Northern Pass HVDC power line.

More than 300 people spoke at those hearings. More than 95 percent of those spoke in opposition to Northern Pass. It was evident from the buttons, signs and symbolic hunter-orange clothing that virtually all who attended--outside of the Northern Pass representatives themselves--were in opposition to the proposed power line and towers.

While the arguments against the power line were varied and often emotional, they reflected a strong attachment to the landscape. But not just as a scenic backdrop--though the notion of scarring our hillsides found no friends outside of Franklin--but as a way of life.

Speaker after speaker took his or her three minutes at the podium in the hopes that the DOE might understand what the Northern Pass applicants have not: that the opposition to 180 miles of power line is not just about the view, nor just about a home. All along the proposed routes homeowners don't just just live on the land, the land provides their livelihood. And for many, it has done so thanks to the backbreaking work of many generations. Offering someone a job--a temporary job at that--to replace a chosen lifestyle as if that were somehow equivalent is an insult like no other.

Dairy farmer John Amey of Pittsburg perhaps best summed up the many emotional appeals to the DOE to reject the Northern Pass Presidential Permit: "There is no way landowners can be adequately compensated for the loss of a way of life."

In Franklin, where a 25-acre facility would be built to convert the HVCD current to AC before sending it on to Deerfield, a few people connected to city hall spoke of their need for the resulting tax revenue. Nearly as many Franklin residents spoke against the proposal, fearing the drop in property values on and near the facility and lamenting how it might brand Franklin forever as an undesirable community in which to live.

In Haverhill, where the last of the hearings was held, those who live in the area already know about living under, near, and in sight of an existing HVDC National Grid line running from Canada to Massachusetts. Their up-close experience only cemented their opposition to a proposed alternate route that would run through Haverhill and surrounding towns should Northern Pass fail to acquire a special use permit to go through the White Mountain National Forest. Even the option of using that existing corridor for additional DC lines got poor reviews, with testimony about the noise of the lines in wet weather.

It was in Haverhill that Tom Thomson threw down the political gauntlet for 2012, advising every candidate for local, state and federal office--including those coming for the Presidential Primary--to "do their homework on this issue."  It should be noted that Sen. Kelly Ayotte appeared in person in Haverhill, as did Congressman Charlie Bass, as well state rep Rick Ladd and others. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen had a representative at every hearing.  Executive Councilor Ray Burton was omni-present and in opposition. The most visibly absent award went to Governor John Lynch, who had a representative at one meeting but was otherwise unseen.

Sam Cataldo and Jackie Calli-Pitts, two state reps with seats on the Science, Technology and Energy Committee, both made the trip to fellow Committee-member Rep. Larry Rappoport's home district of Colebrook for the hearing there in anticipation of further discussion about HB648 regarding the use of eminent domain. Other state reps and many local officials attended hearings and spoke in opposition at each of the hearings as well.
The DOE representatives, who were exceedingly polite, respectful, and attentive throughout their hearings, are now back in Washington, D.C. They will continue to accept comments on the scope of the EIS through April 12. They will then sift through all comments, and based on those (presumably) determine exactly what will be studied as part of that EIS. The draft EIS is not expected to be presented for at least a year.

Perhaps the biggest issue of in all this is to what extent public opinion matters. Although New Hampshire residents and landowners, seeing little or no public benefit to the proposed project, clearly have said 'Nay' to Northern Pass, there is in fact no vote.  Will the process take into consideration that public outcry? Do the Presidential Permit and state Site Evaluation Committee processes that Northern Pass must go through even consider overwhelming public opposition as clear evidence of a lack of public benefit?

As with many questions surrounding Northern Pass, that one, too, remains unanswered.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.