AMC and its conservation partners succeeded last month in getting the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to issue a supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on Eversource Energy’s new preferred route for the proposed Northern Pass electric transmission project.
The conservation groups’ request came in response to the company identifying a revised route, or “proposed action,” in mid-August that had not been considered as part of the federally required environmental review issued in July. AMC is reviewing the findings of the supplemental DEIS.
In addition, DOE postponed public hearings on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and extended the public comment period as a result of the request by AMC, Audubon Society of New Hampshire, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, Responsible Energy Action LLC, and the New Hampshire Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. DOE subsequently extended the public comment period to January 4, 2016.
Northern Pass, a proposed 192-mile electric transmission line that would run largely overhead, would carry Canadian hydropower through New Hampshire to electricity consumers in southern New England.
DOE has scheduled mid-December public hearings on the supplemental DEIS in the New Hampshire towns of Whitefield, Plymouth, and Concord, although it is possible those dates will be revised. In a letter to DOE following the announcement of those dates, New Hampshire’s governor, Maggie Hassan, called on the agency to reschedule the hearings and to add another in northern Coos County “so that the most impacted communities have the opportunity to be heard.”
The conservation groups’ request for the additional environmental review and supplemental DEIS received the bipartisan support of the entire New Hampshire congressional delegation, which sent a letter supporting a supplemental DEIS to the DOE’s assistant secretary, Patricia Hoffman.
These groups, collectively representing more than 200,000 members from across the Northeast, noted in their request that the then unstudied alternative route “contains changes in tower heights, configurations, and locations that were not analyzed in the [original] DEIS.”
“We are grateful to DOE for its thoughtful decision to analyze the newly revised route proposed by Northern Pass and issue a supplemental DEIS,” says Susan Arnold, AMC’s vice president for conservation. “It would be unfair to expect the public to comment on a DEIS that looks only at an outdated route. Our organizations also are especially grateful for the bipartisan backing of Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Representatives Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) and Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), who appealed to DOE in support of a supplemental DEIS.”
Despite DOE’s action on the supplemental DEIS, Northern Pass officials filed an application in October with New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), whose approval is needed for the project to proceed.
The SEC is slated to meet in December to determine if that application is complete. If so, the state’s review period could begin. A legal challenge regarding whether Northern Pass has the necessary right-of- way ownership for its application to be ruled complete is currently before the court.
The Northern Pass project has drawn steady fire from a broad array of conservation organizations and thousands of New Hampshire residents concerned about the line’s potential to hurt property values, destroy scenic views, and damage the state’s tourism-dependent economy.
Company officials have proposed burying 52 miles of the line in the vicinity of the White Mountain National Forest to avoid scenic impacts there. Public comments offered at informational sessions in September strongly favored burial of the entire electric line. According to a statement provided by AMC at those sessions: “Two-thirds of the Northern Pass route remains above ground, and tens of thousands of New Hampshire residents and visitors will continue to be impacted by the proposed above-ground route. The preponderance of evidence shows that full burial [of the line] is doable.”
Read the supplemental DEIS on the new “preferred alternative” route announced by Northern Pass, and find out how to submit comments, at northernpasseis.us/news. Learn more about AMC’s stance on the project at outdoors.org/northernpass.