Saturday, November 13, 2010

Live Free or Fry

When I first started this “blog” almost two years ago, I pledged to myself that I would steer clear of politics and other questionable activities. And I have remained true to this promise. Well, until now. And what I am writing here is not really politics, per se, although politics will surely play a significant roll in this before it’s all over.

Anyone who has followed these postings over the past two years will know how strongly I feel about the Great North Woods of northern New Hampshire (as well as adjacent areas of northern Vermont and western Maine). These areas are still covered with endless miles of forested hills interrupted occasionally with river valleys dotted with small villages and farms that have been in families for generations. I visit this region as often as my schedule permits and I have come to think of it as a spiritual home. Truly God’s Country! One can stand on any hilltop and look in any direction and see nothing but hills, forests and lakes. It is hard to fathom the possibility that this might all change if the power companies have their way.

In early October it came as a shock to those who call the North Country home when they learned that Hydro-Québec, the provincial-owned Canadian energy giant, and Northeast Utilities and its subsidiary Public Services of New Hampshire [PSNH], in the United States, had entered into a partnership known as “Northern Pass.” It would establish high-tension power routing 1,200 megawatts of electricity from a hydro project near Sherbrooke, Québec, across the international border at Pittsburg, New Hampshire, and then down the length of the state, through the Connecticut River valley and the White Mountains to a converter station in Franklin, and finally to Deerfield. From there the electricity would be distributed into the New England regional power grid. None of this electricity would benefit the people of North Country yet they would have to watch their magnificent landscapes and view sheds be ruined by a 150-foot clear-cut swath through their hills, forests and valleys and 130-foot tall towers carrying the new high-tension power lines.

Although PSNH had established its proposed route across New Hampshire, something the people of New Hampshire knew nothing about until now, the last few miles of the route, from just north of Colebrook to Canadian border in Pittsburg, have not been announced, nor has Hydro-Québec, which is studying the route through Canada, informed the good folks on that side of the border where it intends to run the lines nor has it established the border crossing. This said, all concerned parties in the US have only until December 16 to registers comments and/or opposition to the Northern Pass project before hearings are scheduled in the coming months. How is it possible to comment on a project for which concrete route information is not yet available?

But this has not stopped the people of the North Country, as well as a growing number of Canadians, from voicing their opposition to Northern Pass. Over the past weeks they have been showing up in growing numbers at meetings of the boards of selectmen in communities that will be impacted by this project to put their questions and concerns to PSNH representatives. Besides their worries about esthetics, they also want to know about the possible drop in property values in an area already struggling in these hard economic times. What about easements and the possibility that eminent domain will be applied to those who don’t want these lines going through their properties?

They are also organizing and networking as they prepare for the battles to come over this project. Concerned Citizens Against the Powerlines have scheduled an organizational meeting in Colebrook this coming week. There is also a Facebook page - “Stop The Northern Pass - No High Tension Power Lines in Coos County” - which is serving as a sounding board for those opposed to this project. A similar project was defeated almost thirty years ago when a less-organized opposition forced the power companies to go through Vermont before crossing into southern New Hampshire. Why can’t these new lines use existing right-of-ways? Why can’t they be buried? What about the potentially dangerous effects on the health of those who live near these lines? The verdict is still out on this. There are lot of questions that need to be answered, and the good people of the North Country will not sit still until they get the answers they expect and deserve. Let us not forget that this area established an independent Indian Stream Republic back in the 1830s when neither the newly- established United States nor British Canada represented their best interests. These folks are still fiercely independent. I wish them well. They deserve better than they are getting.

So now I will step down off my soapbox. I have said what needed to be said. But don’t be surprised if I step up again in the coming months. This ain’t over by a long shot!

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