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NH SEC 2015-06 Adjudicative Hearing - Day 65

Concord, NH - Monday marks the beginning of the final two weeks of SEC adjudicative hearings to determine the future of the Proposed Northern Pass Project. Monday’s hearing saw testimony about mainly visual and property impacts of the NPT. Witness panels included Municipal Group 1-South, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), and the Deerfield Abutter Group. The end of the hearing saw a change in procedure as witness Jeanne Menard was allowed to guide her own rebuttal of previous testimony by the applicant regarding appraisals of property values.

Beginning the day, direct examination of the witness panel from Municipal Group 1- South saw intervenor Kris Pastoriza discuss a soil sample that she claims to be hazardous, which she then asks if the SEC would like to see, as she had it with her in a bag. Chairman Honigberg responded that if the witness wanted the SEC board to see it, they would be happy to take a look at it.

Following direct examination, Attorney Pappas, Counsel for the Public began his line of questioning, beginning by asking about property values in Easton, and when they were last assessed. It is stated that they are in a constant state of assessment by a private assessor, the next being in two years. With this private assessment, it was stated that the assessor has not made any calculation for a potential decrease in property values due to the proposed project.

During the Deerfield Abutters Group questions to the witnesses, Jeanne Menard (Who later would be on the witness stand with the Deerfield Abutters Group) brings up the Easton Conservation Commission’s communications with Eversource. Easton stated that they were disappointed in Eversource’s supposed ‘refusal’ to create any wildlife crossing corridors in the easements in Easton. After an objection by applicant’s Attorney Needleman, Chairman Honigberg interjects to Ms. Menard’s explanation of her line of questioning, he remarks that the transmission line will be buried through Easton, rendering the need for crossing corridors useless. Ms. Menard admitted that she was mistaken and concluded her questioning.

During Attorney Needleman’s cross of the witness panel, he asks about a line of questioning by Attorney Pappas, where it was established that the witnesses believed that property owners would seek abatements if the line went through Eastman. Attorney Needleman asked if there was any information to support this claim, the witness says no, he had just heard people say they would seek abatements. Attorney Needleman pressed further whether there was any specific evidence to support the conclusion, the Witness again said no.

Attorney Needleman then presented an Associated Press article dated February 7th 2011, in which witness Ms. Pastoriza is quoted. He points to a quote in the article which Ms. Pastoriza states if the project can’t be stopped, at least it should be buried and that would stop the “Ugly towers.” Witness Pastoriza admits that she likely said this. Attorney Needleman then presents a letter from the Easton Conservation Commission to PSNH that stated a buried line is preferred. It seems as though at some point witness Pastoriza and the Easton Conservation Commission would have been partial to a buried project to stop adverse impacts.

During the Sub-Committee’s questions to this Witness panel Commissioner Bailey brings up a specific incident with Ms. Pastoriza, in which Ms. Pastoriza had understood that the SEC was not reading pre-filed testimony. Upon submitting her own testimony, Ms. Pastoriza included a message saying that if the Committee Members did not respond, Ms. Pastoriza would assume that they did not read them. Commissioner Bailey then asks if Ms. Pastoriza realizes that it would be entirely inappropriate for sub-committee members to have discussions off the record with her.

Commissioner Bailey then follows this question by asking Ms. Pastoriza whether she has any scientific qualifications. Ms. Pastoriza says “No” and clarifies that her degree is in the arts. She is then asked how she knows that the soil sample she wanted to present to the SEC was contaminated with hazardous materials. She is asked whether the bag of soil she brought to and presented to the SEC board at the beginning of the hearing had been analyzed. She states that she did not have the resources to do so.

In the afternoon session of the hearing the Witness panel for the SPNHF was called, attorney Needleman questioned witness Will Abbott about an assertion that he made that the legal property rights of the SPNHF would be violated as the Northern Pass is currently proposed. Attorney Needleman asked if Mr. Abbott knew that court had determined that SPNHF’s property rights would not, in fact, be violated. Attorney Needleman then asks about the Washburn Family Forest and impacts Mr. Abbott asserted the project would have on this property, Mr. Abbott states that he is not a visual impact expert. Attorney Needleman then asks if he’s ever performed a visual impact assessment, Mr. Abbott answers no.

Attorney Needleman then turns his focus to an easement that the SPNHF had purchased near Little Diamond Pond. The purchase of this land, while meant to block the NPT, in fact made it necessary for the proposed project route to move closer to the pond. Mr. Abbott states that yes the project might have been less visible had the initial route been maintained.

SEC Hearings Videos

SEC Hearings – November 21, 2017

In this clip, Carl Martland, witness for Sugar Hill Historical Museum, explains he has no professional experience in preparing visual impact studies, and offers his perspective on the project impact from his personal perspective. In questioning, he talks about the visual report he compiled and recognizes that his view impact examples do not reflect the actual proposal in multiple locations.

SEC Hearings – November 20, 2017

This clip highlights a key exchange between Northern Pass Attorney Barry Needleman and George Sansoucy, a witness for the municipal group, opponent of Northern Pass and expert in land valuation. In the line of questioning, Attorney Needleman raises questions of Mr. Sansoucy’s credibility of claims related to property valuation impact of Northern Pass by citing a number of court cases in which Sansoucy lost rulings based on “pure speculation and no data to back up his claims. Here he is questioned about work done in Hampton.

SEC Hearing – November 8, 2017

In the clip below, Attorney Walker is questioning Grafton County’s Expert Witness, Linda Lauer, who opposes the project and believes it should have been placed along I-93, despite previous rulings from NH DOT that it was not an option. This exchange highlights the difference between opposition and evidence-based opposition to the project.

SEC Hearings – November 7, 2017

Attorney Walker, in questioning three representatives of Counsel’s for the Public Environmental Panel, asks the trio of experts about the project’s possible impact on wildlife such as the Karner Blue Butterfly, known as KBB.

SEC Hearings – November 3, 2017

View impacts of the Northern Pass proposal is central concern expressed by critics of the proposal, yet in the lengthy process of review of impacts, using a standard set previously by the state of New Hampshire, even critics admit the applicants followed the process and accurately reviewed potential impacts in an effort to mitigate them along the route. Here is an exchange between Attorney Barry Needleman and Harry Dodson of the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, who is asked about the process of reviewing the application regarding view impacts.

SEC Hearings – November 2, 2017

In an exchange between Attorney Walker and Counsel for the Public’s Cultural and Historical Resources Expert: Patricia O’Donnell, Attorney Walker asks her about her review of scenic and historic resources. Ms. O’Donnell explains that an “historic designation” of property in this process requires only someone calling to add their property to the list, and admittedly most of the properties on the list were not reviewed to confirm this status. It is important to see how both sides must agree upon the rules for review.

SEC Hearings – October 27

During testimony from Counsel for the Public’s Cultural and Historical Resources, Patricia O’Donnell was asked to critique the potential impact on cultural and historic resources along the Northern Pass route. She raised questions about impacts, but was also forced to admit the full detail of the project’s plan to mitigate impacts was submitted after she did her review, which was not as detailed as it normally would be conducted by her office.

SEC Hearings – October 26, 2017

This clip highlights an interesting exchange between Attorney Pappas, who serves as the council for the public, and members of the Brattle Group, a market economics panel of experts asked to examine the Northern Pass proposal. Attorney Pappas asks if the original review by company known as LEI missed anything in terms of possible savings to customers. Brattle Group members answered yes, and cited the recent price spike a few winters ago which triggered a major natural gas shortage and some of the highest power rates and inventory shortages our state has ever seen. Brattle Group believes this plan would decrease that risk in the future.

SEC Hearings – October 26, 2017

This clip highlights the difference between a following procedural surveying rules versus the wish that the state’s rules were different. In this symbolic exchange, Attorney Hodgdon asks Attorney Nix about the rules for how to survey the proposed route for Northern Pass, and whether the surveyors are following the state’s rules. Attorney Nix admits the rules are being followed, but he wishes a boundary survey was required, even though those are never required by law with regards to utility line proposals.

NH SEC 2015-06 Adjudicative Hearing - Day 64

Concord, NH - After a week long Thanksgiving break, Tuesday saw another truncated day of SEC hearings, beginning at 1:00 pm and ending at approximately 6:00 pm. Tuesday’s hearings focused primarily on individual witnesses’ opinions regarding the scope and impact of the proposed Northern Pass Project. Witness Dr. Campbell McLaren, representing the Bethlehem-Plymouth Abutters Group was first to the stand, followed by Bruce Ahern also of the Bethlehem-Plymouth Abutters group followed by a witness panel Municipal Group 3-North.

During questioning from the Deerfield Abutter’s group, Ms. Menard asked Dr. McLaren about a specific part of his testimony which he believes will affect wetlands on his property. He states that he’s worried about guarding the wetlands, and had questions about whether or not protective mats would be placed to safeguard the area.

Environmental mitigation efforts by the applicant have been discussed at length in previous hearings, the applicant has committed itself to utilizing best practices as laid out by the “good forestry guide” provided by fish and game ( Ms. Menard further asked if Dr. McLaren had received any assurances to calm his fears for the wetland, Dr. McLaren responded that there is now work taking place on the other side of the road, which could spare the wetland he was concerned about.

During the PRLAC’s questions to Dr. Campbell, Ms. Draper representing the PRLAC asked Dr. McLaren what kind of mitigation efforts would he expect to protect his land. Dr. McLaren stated that he has not looked into it, because he doesn’t think the project should be taking place at all.

Dr. McLaren stated multiple times that a large concern for him was the safety of people in potentially life threatening conditions. He believes that road closures could cause strain on emergency personnel attempting to rescue someone in a life threatening situation. When committee member Bailey asked Dr. McLaren how long it takes for an Ambulance to get to the hospital from the potentially affected area. Dr. McLaren responded that it could potentially take 20 minutes with clear roads. Dr. McLaren fielded a question about how long it might take someone to die of a heart attack, a scenario he had previously referred to, he stated that it would depend but time is of the essence.

Intervening witnesses Barbara Lucas, Daniel Moore, Kenneth Kettenring, and Neil Irvine were called to close the day as Witnesses for Municipal Group 3 - North. Attorney Whitley examined the witnesses directly. The panel was asked if they were aware that testimony from the Applicant’s expert Dr. Shapiro showed significant tax benefits that were possible from the NPT. The witnesses stated that they were aware of the tax savings estimation. Attorney Whitley also asked if there were another methodology used to evaluate the project in their area that showed a better result, would it change their mind? Witness Irvine stated no, though the witness panel did agree that they would be open to further communication with the Applicant.

During Counsel for the Public’s questioning of the witness panel, Attorney Aslin asked the panel how they have based their conclusion that a series of locations that were represented should be labelled as having unreasonably adverse impacts. The witness stated that it was based on his opinion. In the picture that was referred to, the tower in question could not be seen from that location. Attorney Aslin then asked about a suspected 10-50% decrease in property values, Witness Irvine affirmed his belief that depending on the site specifications, he expected a 10-50% decrease in property valuation. When Attorney Aslin followed up to ask if he had done any kind of quantitative analysis for the net loss to property value if the project was approved, Mr. Irvine stated that the percentage he came up with was just his opinion.

Attorney Walkely representing the Applicant asked Ms. Lucas first about a summary of correspondence between the Applicant and the town of New Hampton, Ms. Lucas agreed that it the summary looks accurate. Ms. Lucas, however claimed that she did not know that past the summary of correspondence there had been further outreach from the Applicant to individual citizens and businesses in the town of New Hampton. Attorney Walkely then asked about the panel’s concerns with lack of specificity in the MOU discussed with the town of New Hampton, she asked whether they had submitted anything to the applicant addressing any of the problems in the MOU. The panel claimed that they like their town the way it is, and that they had not submitted anything about problems they had with the MOU.

Attorney Walkely asked Mr. Irvine on the witness panel whether it was correct that the town of New Hampton was not open to discussion if the applicant is not able to agree to an all monopole design through the town. Witness Irvine states that the town is always open to discussion, but if that were the case, they would have to figure out how to live with above ground construction. Attorney Walkely then asked Dr. Kettenring if he would agree that the project has never made the assertion that due to ground and soil conditions the burial of the line was not possible.

Furthering the witness panels reliance on local opinion, Attorney Walkely asked Mr. Irvine if the town board looked at the Applicant’s view shed maps created by Mr. Dewan to come to their conclusion about the visibility of structures. Mr. Irvine stated that no, they did not use the view shed maps, and that they based their opinion on “local knowledge.” Attorney Walkely followed that answer by asking Mr. Irvine if the board used anything other than their opinion, or local knowledge to make assessments on potential project impacts. Mr. Irvine stated that for visual impacts that they didn’t do any further analysis. They did not use anything other than their opinions and local knowledge, but asserted that they did a “lot of reading” that indicated that there would be an impact.

NH SEC 2015-06 Adjudicative Hearing - Day 63

Concord, NH - Tuesday’s SEC hearings saw a continuation of testimony from Mr. George Sansoucy, witness for the Municipal Group. Mr. Sansoucy was followed by Mr. Carl Martland, witness for Sugar Hill Historical Museum, The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, and National Trust for Historic Preservation. While Mr. Sansoucy answered questions regarding property values, and energy capacity, Mr. Martland was called to answer questions regarding potential adverse visual impacts to project locations in New Hampshire.

Attorney Walker, representing the applicant continues questioning from Monday’s hearing. Mr. Walker asks Mr. Sansoucy about a table he developed for diminution of property values that represents that diminution happens due to easements on the property, Attorney Walker maintains that this isn’t actually the case. Mr. Sansoucy eventually agrees that diminution is not all due to easements on the concerned properties.

During the SEC panel’s questions for Mr. Sansoucy, Mr. Weathersby asks whether there’s enough capacity provided by HydroQuebec to power the NPT, Mr. Sansoucy estimates that there is still available capacity, maybe 500 megawatts, maybe 1000 megawatts. Which indicates that in his opinion there is enough capacity to supply the Northern Pass project.

Following Mr. Sansoucy’s testimony, Mr. Carl Martland is questioned about his pre-filed testimony. During questioning by Attorney Pappas for the Counsel for the Public, Mr. Martland states that he did not do an analysis for duration and distance on the NPT.

Many questions are raised to Mr. Martland about Scenic Byways in New Hampshire. During Attorney Riemers for the SPNHF’s questions, Mr. Martland states, in his opinion, that All roads in Northern New Hampshire are in need of protection.

During the Deerfield Abutters group questions to Mr. Martland, Ms. Menard representing the group attempts to use an exhibit from a project dating to the 1980’s to illustrate a point about incremental visual impacts, which draws a question from Chairman Honigberg, asking why the 40 year old report is relevant to this docket.

During the applicant’s questioning of Mr. Martland, Attorney Needleman first asks whether Mr. Martland would like to change any answers in his testimony regarding anything he thought a previous analysis performed by Mr. Dewan had left out. Martland states that he did not read the February analysis. Though Mr. Martland admits that the visual impact analysis performed by Mr. Dewan was readily available for him to read in February, he had not read the report, and that he is not a visual expert.

Attorney Needleman then presents a number of “View Simulations” which Mr. Martland had previously developed and entered as evidence. During Attorney Needleman’s questioning about these simulations, it became clear through several statements that Mr. Martland knew that some of the structures he used in the simulations were not the correct structures, and had even entered in some simulations showing purported structures in parts of the proposed projects that were to be put underground. This indicates that Mr. Martland had presented visual simulations which he deemed to be “unreasonably” adverse, yet the structures used in at least 5 of his presented simulations were not even the type of structures that the Applicant intends to construct at those sites.

NH SEC 2015-06 Adjudicative Hearing - Day 60

Concord, NH - Beginning a shortened week of SEC hearings, Thursday’s adjudicative hearing once again focuses on potential property, business, and environmental impact of the Northern Pass Project. Thursday’s hearing see witnesses from the Clarksville-Stewartstown and Dummer-Northumberland group, and Municipal Group 3 - South (Concord).

Mr. Beland, a Member of the Clarksville-Stewartstown and Dummer-Northumberland group of witnesses claims to have over 20 years of experience constructing transmission lines. During the Counsel for the Public’s questioning, he states that he believes his personal property value would drop up to a six figure amount, due to what he has seen personally. Though when Attorney Aslin, representing the Counsel for the Public, asked Mr. Beland if he had been made aware of the Northern Pass Project’s option for property owners to be compensated for potential property value losses, Mr. Beland states that he was not aware of this.

During the Applicant’s examination of the witness, Attorney Walker asked Mr. Beland if he knew exactly where the proposed structures would be raised in relation to his property. Mr. Beland responded that he doesn’t know exactly where the structures will be raised, but he had heard from people that the project would hurt his land.

After the lunch break, witnesses were called from Municipal Group 3 - South (Concord). The first questions from Attorney Aslin (Counsel for the Public), had to do with permanent versus temporary mitigation efforts made by the Northern Pass Project. The witness panel indicated that there had not been discussions of mitigation of temporary impacts between themselves and the Applicant. Attorney Aslin then asked the witness panel if they had reviewed the changes that the NPT has made to help mitigate impacts to the Karner Blue butterfly. The witnesses said that they had, but that there is no guarantee that the Karner Blue butterfly would colonize the areas that will be designated as conservation land for the butterfly to colonize.

During the Applicant’s examination of the witness panel, Attorney Needleman, representing the Northern Pass Project, began a line of questioning to establish the project’s extensive coordination with specific municipalities to establish public outreach events. Attorney Needleman presented the Applicant’s municipal outreach summary, showing a list of meetings that were held in Merrimack County to serve as informational sessions for the municipalities that could potentially be impacted by the project (Concord is one of these municipalities).

Attorney Needleman then asked the witnesses about Alton Woods, and if they knew the extent of the clearing that will be done there. The witnesses state that they know about Alton Woods and that they are aware that some clearing has already occurred there.
Later in his line of questioning, Attorney Needleman showed a picture of Alton Woods, that was used by other intervenor parties as an exhibit in the proceedings. The intervenors that had used this picture, had insinuated that it was a photograph of Eversource workers, and offered it as evidence of the disturbance the Applicant would cause in the area if work like that depicted in the photograph was conducted. Attorney Needleman then asked if the Witnesses did any work to figure out who was conducting the work on the area? It became clear that the photograph showing the work being done on Alton Woods wasn’t being performed by Eversource, it was being conducted by Unitil. The Applicant has promised to use more cautious protocol in dealing with areas like Alton Woods, and the kind of work being depicted in the photograph was far more intensive and invasive than work that would be done by Eversource in Alton Woods.

Later in the questioning Attorney Needleman asks specifically about the residents of 41 Hoyt Road, and whether the witnesses knew that the residents had requested EMF testing, and not only did the Applicant conduct the testing at the Applicant’s expense, but that they have been in continued contact with the residents.

Attorney Needleman then turned his attention to a report prepared by Witness Beth Fenstermacher. Needleman established that Ms. Fenstermacher only performed a ground/field analysis, and has never worked on a transmission line analysis before. Attorney Needleman then showed an exhibit entered by the Joint Municipal Intervenor Group. The exhibit shows a color coded impact key. The key shows five colors that the authors of the report used to describe different levels of impact to the proposed project area. Attorney Needleman then asked if there was anywhere else in her testimony or exhibits that gives further descriptions on how the witnesses came to the conclusions displayed on the chart. Ms. Fenstermacher stated that she was not sure. Needleman then asked Ms. Fenstermatcher if, before submitting her testimony, she was aware of the difference between “tree removal,” and “tree trimming.” Ms. Fenstermatcher states that she did not know the difference, and would have to revisit her testimony to see if she was submitting inaccurate information in her report. This means that the impacts of the project that she testified to could be inaccurate, as she labeled and analyzed places where trees would simply be trimmed, as full tree removals - drastically and inaccurately increasing the project’s impact in the report.

During Attorney Needleman’s line questioning regarding Witness Fenstermacher’s chart, Needleman asks of the 46 locations which she had rated as “high impact” how many of those landowners had been in contact about her report’s conclusion. Ms. Fenstermacher stated that 4 landowners reached out to her. Further, 3 of the of the 46 landowners are intervenors in the current SEC process. There is no written evidence of any of the other 42 property owners being concerned. Attorney Needleman further pointed out that several property owners even purchased their parcels after the project was announced, and potentially even after the application was submitted. This means that the people that purchased the land knew of the NPT and were not concerned. Attorney Needleman continued the line of questioning by asking if it was fair to say that there had been a tremendous amount of outreach on the part of the Applicant, and on the part of the Sub-Committee to include the public in the process and allow them to voice concerns. Ms. Fenstermacher states that that is a fair thing to say. The Northern Pass Project has fielded over 30 hours of public comments at over 20 different public meetings through the proposed route.

Attorney Walker, representing the Applicant asked the witnesses a series of questions about the Karner blue butterfly. Walker asked if they were aware that due to mitigation efforts planned by the Northern Pass Project, only 1,043 square feet of a possible 28,000 square feet will be touched in order to further protect the wild lupin in the area. The witness stated that it does not eliminate the impact, as the species is threatened, and that any impact on the territory is concerning. Attorney Walker then asked if the witnesses were aware that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service had given their opinion in a biological report in relations to the impacts in this area to the Karner blue butterfly. Ms. Fenstermacher says that she doesn’t know about the report, and hasn’t read it. Attorney Walker presented excerpts of the biological opinion that that stated that the project will cause minor temporary adverse impacts on the species, and its habitats, but that the NPT’s plan to develop 7 acres of undeveloped habitat in Concord that will have long-term benefits for the Karner blue butterfly.

Something not discussed in the hearing, that has great impact on the project is the news update that the Department of Energy has issued the Presidential Permit for the Northern Pass. A Presidential Permit is necessary because the proposed transmission line will cross an international border. This permit allows for the NPT to take clean, low cost hydropower across the border from Canada to connect it with the United States electric grid!

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