State Criticizes Federal Review of Northern Pass Historical Impact

Jun 26, 2015

The White Mountains from Mount Washington
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

New Hampshire officials are not happy with the quality of a federal report that is supposed to gauge the Northern Pass’ impact on historic places and landscapes.

The critics are from the state’s Division of Historical Resources and the subject is what’s called a Section 106 review.

Section 106 requires federal agencies, such as the DOE, to “take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties” in considering projects such as Northern Pass. For Northern Pass to move ahead it must have a Presidential Permit issued by DOE.

To conduct the Section 106 study the DOE hired contractors who are paid by Northern Pass but report to DOE. Their report is in four segments, the first being The White Mountains. And so far that’s the only one on which state officials have commented.

In those comments the state had a series of questions and then concluded it “disagrees with the evaluation methodologies and cannot concur with survey recommendations at this time.”

That statement suggests that the state “is far from ready to sign off” on the report, said Patrick Parenteau, a professor at The Vermont Law School who specializes in environmental law.

The DOE contractors have been working on the reports since late in 2013. And a DOE spokesman said the Presidential Permit cannot be issued until the Section 106 is completed.

The contractor’s report has also been criticized by opponents of Northern Pass including the Appalachian Mountain Club and The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

In a letter to the state officials they said the evaluation ignores the towers’ impact on historic vistas and focuses too much on individual, historic sites.

They also said it was unfortunate that state officials agreed with the DOE’s proposal to limit their research and the impact to an area one mile on either side of the proposed route for Northern Pass.

The problem, they said, is that the towers may have a wider impact, including being seen from farther away.

“The most significant historic resources of central and northern New Hampshire are the landscapes which are home to tens of thousands of residents and which attract millions of visitors annually from around the world,” the letter says.

“By limiting the scope of the federal review to one mile on either side of Northern Pass’s proposed overhead power line, the federal government is treating these assets at best as if they are non-existent and at worst as if they are worthless. New Hampshire deserves better.”

“As one example, we would encourage you to look at the impact Northern Pass as proposed will have on several distinct views from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and other historic trails to the peaks of New Hampshire’s 4000 footers,” they wrote.

In addition to the report on The White Mountains the others are The Great North Woods, the Lakes Region and the Merrimack Valley.

Originally the DOE had not planned to post those reports until it received comments on each one from the Division of Historical Resources. However, some opponents of Northern Pass objected, saying the material should be public.

The Department of Energy changed that policy following a June 17th letter from Richard Boisvert, the deputy director of the Division of Historical Resources.

In that letter Boisvert said due to the public interest Gov. Hassan “officially requested” all four reports be available immediately and the division agreed with that approach.

Those reports are now available on the DOE’s Northern Pass website. 

In addition to filing comments with the DOE New Hampshire residents may also send comments to the Division of Historical Resources, a spokeswoman said Friday.