Public counsel grills Northern Pass expert on property value impact

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Dr. James Chalmers of Chalmers & Associates LLC of Billings, Montana answers questions from Attorney Tom Pappas, representing Counsel for the Public, during adjudicative hearings before the Site Evaluation Committee on the Northern Pass Transmission project Monday. InDepthNH.org

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CONCORD, NH  The validity of a report claiming little to no impact on property values from the Northern Pass Transmission project was questioned Monday before the Site Evaluation Committee.

Attorney Thomas Pappas representing the Counsel for the Public, grilled James Chalmers of Chalmers & Associates of Billings, Montana, about his report concluding there “is no evidence that high-voltage transmission lines result in consistent measurable effects on property values.”

The report concludes the effects would be between a 1- and 6-percent decrease in values for properties abutting or encumbered by the line, but would dwindle rapidly with distance.

Chalmers said he relied on the data and judgement of appraiser Brian Underwood for many of the 58 case studies used to reach his conclusion. 

Underwood of Rye and the former chair of the NH Real Estate Appraisers Board, did a 2012 study for Eversource, the developer of the proposed $1.6 billion, high-voltage transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield that concluded the project would not affect property values.

Chalmers’ 2015 report “High-Voltage Transmission Lines and New Hampshire Real Estate Markets: A Research Report,” used 25 existing studies and data from 58 property sales in communities along three other New Hampshire transmission lines to determine property value impact.

Underwood, who has since filed for bankruptcy, was one of three appraisers hired by Eversource to review the data and determine if the transmission lines decreased property values or increased the length of time before properties sold.

Pappas asked Chalmers if he relied on Underwood’s accuracy, credibility and judgement in reaching his conclusion, and Chalmers said he did.

Then Pappas asked if Chalmers knew Underwood had financial problems and filed for bankruptcy or of allegations he provided false testimony, and Chalmers said he did not.

Underwood was the chair of the appraisers board when Northern Pass filed a complaint against North Country appraiser James Walker who told a Dalton couple the project would reduce the value of their 130-plus acre property by 63 percent.

Northern Pass claimed Walker’s methods were suspect and the company had been unfairly harmed by the assessment.

Walker filed an ethics complaint against Underwood, but dropped it as part of a settlement with the board.

“Mr. Underwood was hired by NPT and worked under the direction of Mr. Chalmers, in the development of a comprehensive broad-based study of property sales in New Hampshire, along transmission rights of way,” said Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray.  “There is no correlation between the work Mr. Underwood did on behalf of the project and his personal financial difficulties.”

At the adjudicative hearing, Pappas noted Underwood found only four of the 28 case studies along the transmission line between Littleton and Pelham had decreased values with two other possible cases, but more than half sold for less than their appraised value and stayed on the market longer than the average in those towns.

Many of the properties were more than 100 feet from the right-of-way, he noted, and wondered why the sample had been limited to those within 100 feet of the right-of-way.

Chalmers said Underwood interviewed the brokers and reviewed other conditions to make his judgement. Chalmers also said it is very difficult to find similar properties that sold nearby to compare to the case studies.

Pappas noted that other studies done by Chalmers show a negative impact of from 3- to 9-percent on properties up to 300 to 500 feet from right of ways, but Chalmers said he tried to do as thorough a review of possible to arrive at the 1- to 6-percent and within 100 feet guidelines.

Chalmers said three things drive property values near transmission lines: proximity, visibility and encumbrance.

Pappas said Chalmers’ work analyzes the impact of existing transmission lines, not a new transmission line like Northern Pass.

“The research report does not address new project impact at all,” Chalmers said. “That is an entirely different question.”

But he said answering the question of the overall impact of transmission lines on property values is a foundation for establishing his opinion on Northern Pass.

He noted the impact will only be on the homes close to the Northern Pass route where towers are not visible but will be after the project is constructed.

Murray said to address potential impacts, Northern Pass developed the Guarantee Program, which would compensate property owners who could face an economic loss if they sell their property within five years of when construction begins.

Hearings on the 1,090 megawatt transmission project to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to New England continue Tuesday.

The developers hope to complete permitting this year with the line operating in 2020.

Garry Rayno can be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com


InDepthNH.org’s comprehensive coverage of the SEC hearings on Northern Pass.

April 13, Day 1: Eversource NH Chief Quinlan On The Hot Seat At Northern Pass Hearing
April 14, Day 2: Eversource Chief Questioned About ‘Clean’ Energy Claims And Northern Pass Costs
April 17: Day 3: Eversource: Hydro-Quebec Revenues Could Fall Short In Northern Pass’ First Year
April 18: Day 4: Northern Pass’ Potential Health Concerns Debated At Hearing
April 19: Day 5: Concerns Raised About Northern Pass Affecting Health of Sherburne Woods Residents in Deerfield
April 30Is NH Getting ‘Hoodwinked’ on Health and Safety By Northern Pass?
May 1: Day 6: Testimony: 44 New Access Roads Needed To Build 192-Mile Northern Pass in NH
May 2: Day 7: Northern Pass Expert: 3 Months of Construction Likely In Downtown Plymouth
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ay 3: Day 8: Project Official: Northern Pass Construction Limited To 7 am to 7 pm, Noise Assessed Daily
May 3Eversource’s Chief Quinlan Listed as ‘Host’ For Sununu Fundraiser
May 4: Day 9: Grafton County Attorney Grills Northern Pass Experts On Land Buys
May 5: Day 9, story 2: Common Man’s Alex Ray: Northern Pass Disruption in Plymouth Would Be ‘Fatal’ To Business
May 8Forest Society Calls Northern Pass Inflated Land Buys a ‘Shell Game’
May 25Hydro-Quebec Explores Opportunities in New England, New York
May 31InDepthNH.org, NHPR Talk Northern Pass With John Dankosky
May 31: Day 10: ‘Frac-Out’ Water Pollution Possible When Drilling To Bury Northern Pass
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une 1: Day 11: Applicant: Northern Pass Would Mitigate Impact On Endangered State Butterfly
June 8: Day 12: Counsel for the Public: Northern Pass Financial Expert’s Perspective ‘Unnaturally Optimistic’
June 9: Day 13: Portions of Northern Pass Hearings Held In Closed Session, Again
June 12Public Statement Hearings On Northern Pass Begin June 15
June 13: Day 14:  Analyst: Customer Using 300 kw Would Save $1.50 a Month With Northern Pass
June 14: Day 15: Regulator: Committee Could Consider Conditioning Approval for Northern Pass
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une 15: Day 16: Speaking Out For and Against Northern Pass From Connecticut to Concord
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une 16: Day 17: Forest Society Presses Environmental Benefits of Burying Northern Pass, Yale Responds To Critics About Land Leased To Northern Pass
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une 21: Northern Pass Wants Controversial Yale-Bayroot Lease Kept Confidential
June 20: Day 18: Intervenors: Northern Pass Experts Failed To Identify All Impacted Wetlands
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une 22: Day 19: Northern Pass Opponents Dominate SEC Hearing
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une 23:  Day 20: Northern Pass Seeks 15 More Hearing Days For Total of 57
June 26: 
Day 21: SEC Members Quiz Northern Pass Experts On Wetland Protection
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uly 18: Day 22: Northern Pass Expert: Project Wouldn’t Hurt Tourism
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uly 19: Day 23: Site Evaluation Committee Members Criticize Northern Pass Expert on Tourism
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uly 20: Day 24: Pessamit Innu, Lawmakers, Citizens, Businesses All Have Their Say on Northern Pass
July 21: Day 25:

July 27: More Competition & Northern Pass Commits $10M To Help Low-Income Mass. Customers

For more information about InDepthNH.org, which is published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, contact Nancy West at nancywestnews@gmail.com or call 603-738-5635.