May 31, 2011

Will the NH State Senate Support NH Landowners?

The following joint letter from the Forest Society and the NH Timberland Owners Association was sent to each State Senator on May 27, 2011:

Dear Senator:

We write to ask you and your Senate colleagues to act next week on House Bill 648, a bill to provide relief to New Hampshire property owners inappropriately threatened by eminent domain.

By an 85% to 15% margin the voters in New Hampshire voted in November 2006 to adopt an amendment to the state constitution which reads (as Article 12-a):

No part of a person's property shall be taken by eminent domain and transferred, directly or indirectly, to another person if the taking is for the purpose of private development or other private use of the property.

The State Senate voted in the spring of 2006 to recommend this amendment to the voters by a vote of 24-0.

The idea that any private entity would threaten to use eminent domain in conflict with this amendment strikes at the very core of why New Hampshire voters adopted Article 12-a to our Constitution. This is why the House adopted HB 648 earlier this session by a vote of 317-51.

Members of our two organizations believe strongly that here in New Hampshire the private property rights of New Hampshire citizens must be defended against the inappropriate use of eminent domain. Each of our organizations has been working with private landowners for more than a century to assure that the stewardship of the State’s working forests is in good hands. These landowners expect us to stand up for their rights as property owners. We expect our elected officials to do the same.
Please join the strong majority of your House colleagues, and the strong majority of voters who established Article 12-a in voting to support HB 648.

Jasen Stock, Executive Director

New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association
54 Portsmouth Street
Concord, NH 03301
(603) 224-9699

Jane A. Difley, President/Forester

Society for the Protection of NH Forests
54 Portsmouth Street
Concord, NH 03301
(603) 224-9945

May 24, 2011

"It's not for sale, period.": WMUR Channel 9 Special Report

WMUR's Adam Sexton presents the Northern Pass controversy in a special report that can be viewed here. Colebrook landowner Roland Cotnoir is featured.

May 23, 2011

A Closer Look at the Existing HVDV Corridor

Reporter Michael Cousineau  of the Union Leader delves into the issues involved in the potential use of the HVDC transmission corridor running through Vermont and New Hampshire here. As Cousineau reports, "PSNH CEO and President Gary Long, in a recent interview, said routing the project partly through Vermont would increase the cost and “doubles the risk of approval” with two states then needing to approve the project."

May 20, 2011

Iminent Eminent Domain and HB648

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its hearing on HB648 on Thursday, May 19, a bill meant to reaffirm constitutional protection of landowners from the use of eminent domain by private companies for private purposes. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly in late March. For a recap of the hearing, read Garry Rayno's story in the Union Leader here.

Clearly many present in Representatives Hall on Thursday would have HB648 be a referendum vote on the relative merits--or significant lack thereof--of the Northern Pass proposal itself. And there can be little question that the Northern Pass transmission line proposal has put a spotlight on the inconsistencies between Article 12 of the state constitution and RSA 371:1. These inconsistencies have led us to this: Northeast Utilities, PSNH, and Hydro-Quebec clearly believe that current law will let them use eminent domain for Northern Pass despite the constitutional protections in Article 12; opponents of the Northern Pass proposal, including the Forest Society,  believe that in voting for a constitutional amendment in 2006, 85% of New Hampshire citizens made it clear that private projects for private gain, such as Northern Pass, should not have access to the government's power of eminent domain.

Therein lies the conundrum HB648 attempts to resolve. Among those who made the most compelling case for the need and urgency of passing HB648 was Bob Baker, an attorney who lives in Columbia, NH, and represents 27 landowners who have already been impacted negatively by the Northern Pass proposal.

"The property owners have suddenly found that they can neither sell their properties for fair market value; nor get lenders interested in financing them or re-financing existing mortgages,"  Baker testified. "They have all, to a person, put a hold on further development and renovation of their properties. They all want to know more about their future and the prospects for keeping their land without it being taken by the state’s power of eminent domain for a private transmission line that none of them want—indeed that they believe will destroy the very reason for their ownership of their properties in the first place."

Furthermore, Baker argued, because of the extended timeline of the Northern Pass permitting process and the explicit use by Northern Pass representatives of the threat of eminent domain, the "taking" of property value has in fact already occurred. HB648, and a clear statement that eminent domain should not be used for a private proposal like Northern Pass, is the only way to restore the rights of those impacted landowners.

Northern Pass Media Roundup

Some recent coverage and published opinion surrounding the Northern Pass issue:

Read a fiery op-ed from former State Senator Jim Rubens here.

NBA player, New Hampshire native Matt Bonner voices his opinion on Northern Pass here.

John Harrigan opposes the use of eminent domain for Northern Pass here.

The Montreal Gazette begins to cover the Northern Pass controversy here.

Concord-based AP reporter Kathy McCormack's coverage of the State Senate hearing on HB648 can be read on here.

May 11, 2011

State Senate to Take Up Property Rights Bill May 19

The State Senate will hold a hearing on HB648, a bill that would require utilities to prove a proposed transmission project is necessary before using eminent domain to force landowners to sell their land or grant a corridor easement. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, May 19 at 1:15 in Representatives Hall at the Statehouse in Concord.

Recognizing the deeply rooted New Hampshire respect for individual property rights, the NH House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (317-51) in favor of HB648 in late March. The bill prevents the use of eminent domain for energy transmission facilities where no documented public need or benefit has been established, and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Larry Rappoport (R-Colebrook), HB 648 proposes to amend RSA 371:1, which already prohibits the use of eminent domain by a public utility for the construction of an electric generating plant, to expand that prohibition to a “transmission facility, so long as the transmission facility is not needed for system reliability.”

Rappoport has said that from his standpoint the bill is not about Northern Pass but about protecting property rights and making RSA 371:1 consistent with the New Hampshire Bill of Rights. Article 12 of the constitution was amended in 2006 to read "No part of a person's property shall be taken by eminent domain and transferred, directly or indirectly, to another person if the taking is for the purpose of private development or other private use of the property." That amendment passed the Senate 24-0 in 2006 before being approved by voters 85%-15%.

For those planning on attending the hearing, these guidelines for submitting testimony may be helpful. Written testimony can be submitted via email by sending to Susan Duncan ( sure to request that your testimony be made part of the record relative to HB 648.

May 8, 2011

Hands Across the Border

Awareness by Canadians--and the Canadian media--of the widespread opposition to the Northern Pass transmission line has been growing. Americans reached out to their Quebecois neighbors on Saturday May 7 at an event billed as Hands Across the Border. Watch video coverage courtesy of the Colebrook Chronicle here.

The Impact on Tourism

Concord Monitor reporter Tara Ballenger visits the town of Lincoln, NH, where local business people express their concern over the impact of the proposed Northern Pass transmission towers on the tourism trade. Read the story here.

May 6, 2011

Concord Chamber Forum on Northern Pass

Suffice it to say that the Forest Society and PSNH, a subsidiary of Northeast Utilities, have different points of view on the relative merit, impact and real public benefit of the proposed Northern Pass transmission line. PSNH CEO Gary Long and Forest Society VP of Policy/Land Management Will Abbott presented those differing views at a forum hosted by the Concord Chamber of Commerce on May 5. Read Ben Leubsdorf's coverage of the forum in the Concord Monitor here. Read the Forest Society's presentation by Will Abbott here.