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CONCORD, NH — Twenty-two businesses, including the Common Man restaurant and Plymouth State University, would be seriously disrupted if Northern Pass buries transmission lines through downtown Plymouth, according to letters discussed Thursday on Day 9 of the state Site Evaluation Committee’s adjudicative hearing.
The committee will decide by Sept. 30 whether New Hampshire approves or denies Eversource Energy/Northern Pass Transmission’s application to build a 192-mile, $1.6 billion high-voltage power line from Pittsburg to Deerfield to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity through New Hampshire to the New England grid.
Also Thursday, Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo asked Northern Pass experts why the project purchased five North Country properties at highly inflated prices to the tune of $500,000 through four different LLCs instead of directly from the landowners. See story.
In Plymouth, well-known businessman Alex Ray, who employees 150 people at the Common Man restaurant, the Flying Monkey and other businesses in the Plymouth corridor, said in one of the 22 letters that the construction would be devastating. Attorney Christine Fillmore questioned members of Northern Pass’ expert team on construction about the project’s response to the letters.
Fillmore scrolled the letters from Plymouth business owners and managers complaining about the possible disruption on overhead projectors at the large hearing room at 49 Donovan St., Concord.
“If access were diverted, it would be fatal for our summer weddings, inn and restaurants and the employees who rely on that work,” Alex Ray said in a letter. “In the Monkey alone, the performance center relies heavily on Main St. parking for its concerts of upwards of 450 people and 25 employees– an economic engine that brings people from all over New England for top-name shows such as David Crosby.”
The same people also visit other restaurants and businesses in this same downtown corridor, Ray said. “In short, losing business for 10 to 17 weeks will have a devastating, immediate effect on our business overall, and a much longer impact to recoup our customer base after such a lengthy and significant impact. This financial impact on employees, staff, customers and our viability overall would take years from which to recover.”
Construction expert Kenneth Bowes said Northern Pass hasn’t contacted business owners personally, but expects to do so when it gets closer to construction time. Another Northern Pass expert Lynn Farrington said at a minimum, there would be a single lane of traffic through downtown Plymouth at all times during construction.
Fillmore, spokesman for an intervenor group, asked if anyone at Northern Pass has reached out to the business people who are upset about the potential disruption.
Bowes said: “Other than what we said before, I don’t believe so.” Experts had said that a generic letter was sent to businesses.
Farrington said those kinds of issues would be addressed through meetings when construction time gets close. She was also questioned about how volunteer firefighters would be able to get to the station quickly and conceded there could be a delay, but said flaggers give priority to emergency vehicles.
Fillmore said, “The transportation plan is not before the SEC today.”
One letter was written on the letterhead of the president of Plymouth State University.
“The burial of lines during this period would have a significant impact on the university. It’s our understanding that traffic would be rerouted through the campus. In short this is a very busy time for our school and region, and a project of this scope will disrupt multiple Plymouth State University activities,” the statement read.
Fillmore asked if anyone had spoken to people at Plymouth State University.
Bowes answered: “Not specifically.”
Fillmore asked if there was anything in Northern Pass’ application that would deal with concerns from Plymouth State University. Bowes said there was nothing in front of the SEC today, but it was in front of the Department of Transportation.
Fillmore: “But not in the application now.”
Bowes: “That’s correct.”
Construction experts besides Bowes and Farrington on the panel included Samuel Johnson, Derrick Bradstreet, Nathan Scott, and John Kayser.
Representing the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, attorney Jason D. Reimers reminded the state Site Evaluation Committee that many conservation easements and public parks along the 192-mile line would be impacted by towers that will be as much as twice as high as ones there now in some cases.
There are 44 such properties directly affected, Reimers said.
“That includes big things and little things from Bear Brook State Park to a little conservation easement in Deerfield,” Reimers said.
The towers carrying the lines could be as much as twice as tall as the ones in place now, he said. Bear Brook State Park would see some of the highest at 120 feet and 130 feet, he said.
Kris Pastoriza, a member of the Easton Conservation Commission, questioned the panel about whether Northern Pass did due diligence in researching rights-of-way.
“They didn’t do due diligence,” Pastoriza said. “They didn’t incorporate road layouts which are the fundamental documents you go to to find out the width of the road. They looked at DOT plans. They did not confirm the rights of way on those plans as DOT asked them to do.”
“They answered questions by saying ‘we have no answer to the question,’” she said.
About InDepthNH: Nancy West founded the nonprofit New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism in April. West is the executive editor of the center’s investigative news website, InDepthNH.org. West has won many awards for investigative reporting during her 30 years at the New Hampshire Union Leader. She has taught investigative journalism at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting’s summer program for pre-college students at Boston University. West is passionate about government transparency. The New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, formerly called Investigative News Network, which is also InDepthNH.org’s fiscal sponsor. Click here to read about INN to learn more about the mission of nonprofit news.