Northern Pass Application Likely Lengthiest in State's History

Oct 22, 2015

If printed on 8 x 11 paper, and laid end to end, a single copy of the Northern Pass’ application to the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, would stretch nearly 4 miles. With 51 appendices spread across 35 volumes, each application takes up more than 20,000 pages.

When they were laying out the boxes of applications that needed to be delivered “it looked like we were moving,” says Lauren Collins, Northern Pass spokeswoman. 

“We had to group everything around a giant factory room to keep it organized and make sure we had checked off all the boxes.”

It’s hard to say for certain, but the application to build the 192-mile Northern Pass transmission line is likely the lengthiest that the state has ever had to review.

The Seabrook Nuclear Station – the project that led to the creation of the SEC – or the Phase I and Phase II power line which stretches from Monroe New Hampshire all the way to Massachusetts might have rivaled the Northern Pass in terms of complexity. But as the approval process has matured the paperwork required has multiplied.

And now towns, activists, and state agencies are quietly poring over those files.

Towns were given the option of taking it as a hard-copy or digital, and most opted for the e-version.

Sue Croteau, the office manager for the board of selectmen in the North Country town of Stark says she was handed four thumb-drives, all of them full.

“I certainly don’t have time in my day to go through four thumb drives and read everything in there,” she says with a chuckle.

But there are those who will do a lot of reading.

The Department of Environmental Services, the Department of Transportation and Public Utilities Commission each have a permits to review, legal opinions to solicit, and due diligence to be done. DES got the lion’s share of the paper-work: permits for disturbances to wetlands, for large-scale earth-work, for work along shore lands.

“I’ve tried calling three separate staff people who I knew were probably going to be working on this project, and no-one answered the phone, so I would imagine they’re probably reading this thing 24/7,” says Nik Coates with the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Commissions.

Coates was trying to find out how his members should get involved in wetlands permits. His group has not taken a position on the project, though many of its members have signaled their opposition. “How DES is going to respond to this? I imagine they’re going to be brewing a lot of pots of coffee over the next couple of weeks,” he says.

The coffee budgets might have to be bumped up at the offices of the environmental groups that have decided to oppose the project as well.

Over at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, Jack Savage says many of the staff, as well as the attorneys they’ve hired, are going over this application word by word.

“You approach this like any very large project… like eating an elephant – as the saying goes – one bite at a time,” Savage says.

His group and others are looking for chinks in the armor of the case in favor of the project that Eversource has built. “I think that there are going to be key sections that stand out. Things that they maintain are true that one stakeholder or another makes a very strong argument are not true or potential mistakes or that kind of thing,” he predicts.

If you were wondering if anyone has found anything of the sort already, you’d be disappointed. Remember, it’s over 20,000 pages long, and it became public on Monday. And what’s more, opposition groups will likely keep their legal strategy close to the vest so-as to not give the developer time to respond.

As for the developer, Eversource’s work is also far from done.

“I sort of have likened it to sending a child to college, you get them prepped and you send them off and ready to go, but there’s a lot of work to be done over the ensuing years,” says spokeswoman Collins.

After all, Northern Pass has more public open-houses to organize, and then a year’s worth of testimony and hearings to prepare for. All of which will now play out very much in the public eye.