Northern Pass behaving badly

Tying the project to the Balsams redevelopment is divisive and coercive

There’s been disturbing news of late in Coos County, where Eversource has endeavored to hold the redevelopment of the Balsams Resort hostage to potential permitting for the proposed Northern Pass.

How have they attempted to do so? By plying the owners of the Balsams with $2 million in Eversource shareholder funds and reportedly dangling promises of as much as $100 million from the so-called Forward NH Fund if Northern Pass were ever permitted. 

As reported in the Union Leader, Les Otten and his partners have subsequently sought to rub out local opposition to Northern Pass as proposed with a simple threat: The Balsams redevelopment won’t go forward without big money from Northern Pass, and that money only comes if Northern Pass is permitted.

While northern Coos County has a big stake in the outcome of the Balsams redevelopment, every New Hampshire resident should be deeply concerned by the problems created by this latest attempt by Eversource to peddle influence and interfere in local issues. Anyone who cares about good government and fair play should be concerned that Eversource is perverting the permitting process for Northern Pass.

As Eversource NH CEO Bill Quinlan has acknowledged, the $2 million advanced to Mr. Otten comes from “Eversource shareholders,” meaning that the company is now making direct payments to elicit support for its troubled project. 

And in attempting to link success at the Balsams to success with an overhead Northern Pass line, Eversource and Mr. Otten are taking things a step further by twisting arms to change input submitted to the Site Evaluation Committee. 

This is not only divisive, it is dangerously coercive. 

As a state, through a process meant to protect true public interest, we are considering whether to permit Northern Pass, not the Balsams. We should not let Eversource confuse the issue.

None of this is good news for the potential of a successfully redeveloped Balsams.

If Northern Pass and the state are the only sources of investment in the Balsams because private investors have been unwilling to gamble on its potential success, it doesn’t bode well for the viability of the resort. A partially rebuilt resort gone bankrupt won’t be the long-term economic engine many seek, and no Northern Pass largesse will guarantee success.

Many in New Hampshire, including the Forest Society, wish the owners of the Balsams good fortune in redeveloping the Balsams. That is, in small part, why our board of trustees listened carefully to Mr. Otten and Governor Hassan as we considered requests for an amendment to the Balsams conservation easement.

We said no to some proposed changes, and we were careful to follow a process that yielded a greater conservation outcome, but we dealt in good faith. We did not ask or attempt to extract from the Balsams owners a quid pro quo opposition to Northern Pass. 

Northern Pass, as a largely overhead transmission line, faces stiff permitting challenges, not the least of which being that they still do not have the property rights needed to build it. The more than 1,100 tower structures they currently propose to build, and the road network needed to build and maintain them, would create significant adverse impacts to wetlands, views and property values.

But surmounting those obstacles should not come through payoffs and manufactured benefits. Instead, it needs to come from avoiding and reducing those impacts by burying Northern Pass along appropriate transportation corridors. There is a win-win for Northern Pass, and it’s in reach just four feet under the highway.

The most recent attempts by Eversource — and now Mr. Otten – to compel the people of New Hampshire to do their bidding simply to avoid the costs of burying Northern Pass should be rejected. Rather than building a sense of community and a strong economy, they are in fact tearing them apart.

We call on all those who cherish the integrity of the regulatory process — especially elected officials – to publicly denounce these divisive tactics. 

Jane A. Difley is president/forester of the Society for the Protection of NH Forests. William Webb is chair of its board of trustees. 

Categories: Opinion