Northern Pass Foes Worry A Huge Conservation Tract Is Being Eyed

May 8, 2013

For more than a year landowners and a conservation group have been trying to keep Northern Pass from finding a route through Northern Coos County.

But there’s one possibility that would give Northern Pass a big step forward: Crossing a huge conservation tract controlled by the state.

Such an effort could easily make the project even more controversial.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Northern Pass and its opponents have been playing an expensive game of geographic chess, buying and blocking properties, as the utility seeks a route from Canada to its rights-of-way line in Groveton. 

And being able to cross the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Working Forest would be an enormous help to Northern Pass,

The 171,000 acre tract was created in 2003.

It was a complex deal involving state and federal agencies as well as conservation groups and private landowners.

About 146,000 of those acres are in a conservation easement held by the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development.

Sustainable forestry is allowed and public access is assured but development is prohibited.

Northeast Utilities has made not made a formal request with DRED to cross the tract.  But some Northern Pass opponents worry is the move is so logical that a request could be in the works.

“Right now that is the only direct route they have.”

That’s Coos County Commissioner Rick Samson, an opponent of the project.

There would apparently still be some obstacles in the way south but crossing the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters would be a huge help, according to opponents familiar with the land sales in the North Country.

Northern Pass says it has a new route but it has repeatedly delayed providing any details.

Asked whether the utility would like to cross the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Northern Pass spokesman Michael Skelton said the company quote “will not discuss the details of our new route until we publicly announce it.”

Marc Goldberg, a spokesman for Governor Hassan, said no such request has been received.

If it were, Goldberg said the Attorney General would review it.

Such a proposal would add a new and even more controversial aspect to Northern Pass, says Samson.

“There are a tremendous amount of organizations and private individuals that donated to that Connecticut Lakes Headwaters tract to protect it. So, should the state or attorney general even consider giving permission for Northern Pass to use that property that would upset a great deal of people and would forever damage conservation land in the state of New Hampshire.”

Jack Savage is a spokesman for The Forest Society and he contends it isn’t possible for the state to give Northern Pass permission to cross the land.

“Any sort of transmission line like that, a commercial project, is contrary to the express terms of the easement. We were involved in putting that easement on the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters and it is very clear to us by the specific language of the easement that it would not be possible. There is just no loophole whatsoever that would allow for it.”

But it could be a while before anyone knows for sure what Northern Pass has planned.

During a conference call with analysts last week a Northern Pass official said it was likely the new route would be announced in July.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen