Hearings before the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to decide whether to widen portions of a road leading to wind turbines in the North Country should be held in Coos County and not Concord, says Peter Roth, a senior assistant attorney general who represents the public interest before the S.E.C.
It is unfair to require interested citizens to travel to Concord, Roth wrote in a motion filed Monday. The trip can take three hours in good weather and it is expensive if an overnight stay is needed.
Coos County Commissioner Rick Samson has also asked that proceedings be held in Coos Country.
The members of the Site Evaluation Committee work for state agencies and are based in Concord.
When the wind project was being considered in 2009, there were twenty hearings and only three meetings were in Coos County, according to Roth’s motion.
“This did not provide much of an opportunity for people in Coos Country to meaningfully participate in or observe the many days of adjudicative process or the six days of deliberations,” Roth wrote.
In 2009 Roth also asked that all those proceedings be held in Coos but that request was rejected.
Failing to hold the hearings now in the North Country "would also provide further corroboration of the wide-spread and deeply felt sense of New Hampshire citizens that the Committee does not hear or give weight to their input."
At issue is Granite Reliable Power's request to widen portions of the road built to the top of Mount Kelsey.
The current width of the road was approved by the S.E.C. in 2009 after extensive negotiations over how to protect the special, high-elevation habitat.
Since a bearing on one of the huge turbines failed last year, Granite Reliable said it now knows more maintenance than expected will be needed.
Consequently it wants to widen some 12-foot sections to 16 feet to accommodate larger machines.
“It is extremely simple and, I think ultimately when people realize it, non-controversial,” said Harold Pachios, a lawyer for Brookfield Renewable Power, the Canadian firm that owns Granite Reliable.
“These units on this wind farm occasionally have problems and you have to fix them. And, occasionally that maintenance would require a crane,” he said in an interview.
Getting the appropriate vehicle up those roads means running over the vegetation on each side of the road, which will require it being replanted later, said Pachios. That destruction and replanting undermines the goal of creating a permanent habitat for animal.
“You are starting all over again each time,” he said.
It can also delay the maintenance, Granite Reliable argues.
What Granite Reliable wants is to be excused from replanting that additional four feet. Instead, the company promises to make amends elsewhere on the mountain by planting more trees.
The proposed change has approved by the Appalachian Mountain Club and New Hampshire Fish and Game, both of which were involved in working out the original agreement.
However, that approval by the AMC and Fish and Game has no force without the okay of the Site Evaluation Committee.
Granite had asked the SEC to act more quickly than normal so it could get going with the widening as soon as the snow melt allows.
But Roth, the counsel for the public, objected.
In a motion he said the agreement allowing the construction of the wind turbines was carefully worked out in 2009 and shouldn’t be modified without a “compelling show of evidence that the changes will not further harm the environment.”
In a response Granite Reliable’s Pachios argued that the road widening was a small change and “99 percent” of the agreement is unchanged and the Appalachian Mountain Club and Fish and Game are not objecting.
The SEC turned down Granite’s request for an expedited decision and has decided to go ahead with a full hearing, the date of which has not yet been scheduled.
The road has already had an adverse impact by allowing predators such as coyotes and fox to more easily reach the high-altitude areas favored by the threatened American Marten, reducing its population, according to a study by New Hampshire Fish and Game.