How Landowners And Towns Are Blocking A New Route For Northern Pass


Northern Pass continues to face heavy opposition from North Country landowners

If you haven’t read the Concord Monitor’s latest installment on efforts to carve a Northern Pass route through the North Country, you need to.  Last year, Northern Pass scrapped its original proposed route after North Country residents mounted serious resistance.  And although the project hasn’t announced a new route, reporter Annmarie Timmins has been patiently tracking land sales across the region.  She writes:

“Northern Pass officials recently told investment analysts they had acquired a ‘substantial’ chunk of the North Country land needed for a hydropower line from Canada. That’s not untrue. Analysts, however, didn’t hear the rest of the story.

The project is having trouble bridging significant gaps in that most controversial part of the route because many landowners have refused to sell…”

She continues:

Peter Hellberg / Flickr

“Property sales records show that Northern Pass has spent about $9.5 million for land or easements in Pittsburg, Clarksville, Stewartstown, Columbia and Colebrook.

If you plot those sold parcels on a map along with the ‘gap’ lots landowners say they won’t sell, a necklace of sorts emerges – one with missing beads.

Two of those belong to [Bill] Weir [Sr.] and the Placeys [all landowners who have refused to sell]. Two others are held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which owns property rights in two key locations.

One sits near the Canadian border, where Northern Pass has bought land in Pittsburg for its U.S. starting point. The other, secured by the forest society in December, is across the Balsams resort property in Dixville. Northern Pass had hoped to cross over that property into unpopulated timber forest, where buying land could be easier.

Had that plan succeeded, Northern Pass might have easily skirted down the eastern side of the Balsams property and connected to an existing transmission line near Dixville Notch. Getting to that existing transmission line now will mean negotiating with multiple landowners rather than a few.”

Timmins spends a fair amount of time throughout the piece explaining the tensions underlying Northern Pass’ attempts to buy land.  On the one hand, there’s the pressure landowners face from their die-hard neighbors not to sell at any price.  On the other hand, property holders say Northern Pass brokers are approaching them with an air of inevitability–a sort of “Sell now or miss out when we buy from your neighbor!” pitch.  Those conflicts among North Country residents and the project have been well-documented.  And this piece treads similar ground.

Then, the creepiness factor emerges:

“[Landowner Rod] McAllister didn’t return the [Northern Pass] broker’s second call. Then, around Christmas, a more senior broker showed up at the couple’s house, unannounced. Donna and Rod McAllister remember feeling they’d been researched before that meeting.

“He knew my maiden name and where my father worked,” Donna McAllister said. “And he knew Rod collected guns. Stuff you wouldn’t get from (public) town hall records.”

Meanwhile, Paula Tracy of the Union-Leader reports a number of towns, from Clarksville in the far north down to Plymouth and Ashland are trying to use local ordinances to block the project:

“Voters in a dozen towns along the proposed route of the Northern Pass transmission line will consider measures this week designed to prevent such projects from being developed in their communities.

Sugar Hill, Easton, Lancaster, Plymouth, Northfield and Holderness will vote at town meeting on petitioned ordinances that would remove the legal powers of energy corporations to buy land in those towns.

Campton, Holderness, Rumney and Thornton are considering another petitioned article that would require any new transmission lines to be buried.

And Clarksville and Ashland voters will consider proposals with similar goals during town meeting sessions.”

The legality of these ordinances is questionable.  Tracy writes they’re called “rights-based ordinances”:

“The rights-based ordinance challenges the position of the U.S. Supreme Court that corporations are individuals and under the 14th Amendment are guaranteed equal protection.

Attorneys in Lancaster and Campton have said the ordinances are illegal and would be costly to defend in court if challenged. But advocates say more than 130 communities nationwide have used such an ordinance to protect them from unwanted projects.”

Northern Pass declined to comment on rights-based ordinances for Tracy’s piece.  Meanwhile, for her Monitor article, Timmins quotes Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray as saying, “Nothing that we’ve encountered in New Hampshire suggests to us that we won’t be able to acquire rights for a new route,” Murray said. “People are willing to sell their land or easements (across it).”


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »