The NH Senate voted 14-10 today to re-refer HB648, the bill that attempts to clarify the constitutional protections against the use of eminent domain for private development and the standards that public utilities would need to meet in order to petition for the use of eminent domain for power transmission projects.
This was despite an admirable effort on the part of Sen. Jeannie Forrester (R-Meredith) to marshall support for an amendment to HB648 that could have provided landowner relief while minimizing concerns over unintended consequences.
While landowners facing the explicity threat of eminent domain by Northern Pass representatives were disappointed that the Senate did not provide them immediate relief, the debate over the use of eminent domain served to shine a bright light on process and questionable presumption by PSNH that eminent domain will be at their disposal for the proposed. Northern Pass project.
In fact, it would appear more evident than ever that Northern Pass, LLC, and its participant-funded proposal for a 180-mile transmission line would not have a clear path for the use of eminent domain thanks to Article 12a of the state contitution. As Sen. Jeb Bradley R-Wolfeboro) argued, the use of eminent domain by Northern Pass will be fought in the courts for a very long time regardless of the ultimate outcome of HB648. Bradley was among those who voted to re-refer the bill.
But to the extent that landowners should not have to empty their savings to protect their private property rights in the courts against a taking by a corporations such as Northeast Utilities (parent company of PSNH and partner with Hydro-Quebec in Northern Pass), the Senate would do well to follow through with their stated intent to take some time to find the right wording to clarify existing RSAs (notably 371:1) dealing with the use of eminent domain by public utilities.
An AP story by Kathy McCormack can be read here. An editorial on eminent domain and HB648 in the Union Leader can be read here. Paula Tracy's story in the Union Leader previewing the Senate debate on HB648 can be read here.