Northern Pass plan jeopardizes North Country economy
By Deb ReynoldsLike many other legislators desperate for job creation in New Hampshire, I initially welcomed the announcement last fall by Public Service of New Hampshire that the Hydro-Quebec/Northern Pass project would create 1,200 jobs for New Hampshire.Sadly, I was wrong to assume that this project, if approved, would help our state’s economy. This project is wrong for the White Mountains. It is bad for New Hampshire as a whole.Coos County has the highest unemployment rate in the state. And although Grafton County unemployment data reflects a more sanguine picture, the reality is that northern Grafton County is struggling with high unemployment and foreclosure rates.So why have I come to oppose the project?Simply put, the Hydro-Quebec/Northern Pass project will ultimately drive the final nail in the coffin of what is left of the economy of the North Country.Thousands of visitors every year come to the White Mountains. They hike in the White Mountain National Forest and state parks, swim in our northern lakes, snowmobile, ski, fish and recreate. According to the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, tourists pour approximately $250 million into our economy. Our restaurants, hotels, and retail businesses thrive on tourism dollars.For decades, visitors from all over the world have been drawn to the beauty of the White Mountains. As a result, a robust second-home economy has developed, drawing investors and creating jobs. The beautiful vistas, pristine scenery and fresh mountain air make our part of the state one of the most attractive in the country.All of this has the potential to be destroyed if the Northern Pass project is approved.This profit-generating project proposes to create a new 40- to 45-mile power line right-of-way directly through public and private forestland in the North Country, including the White Mountain National Forest. This is not in the best interest of New Hampshire’s forests nor the tourism-based economy those forested landscapes help to support.Do the proponents of the project seriously believe that 135-foot-high electrical towers and expanded rights-of-way that will destroy the vistas of the White Mountains are a net benefit to New Hampshire? Do we really need to permanently scar our pristine landscape with power supplied by another country? How is that going to help tourism?Rather than creating jobs, this project will potentially destroy what is left of our North Country economy by reducing property values, driving away tourism and discouraging investment. It will also be an economic disincentive to in-state small hydroelectric projects, biomass, wind and true renewable energy projects.As the state senator for most of Grafton County over the past four years, I pushed hard for high-quality broadband for our part of the state. We need the telecommunications highway in order to survive here. Broadband expansion and connectivity for the North Country is the true answer for long-term economic development.We need to stop giving lip service to ways to stimulate the North Country economy. Unless we intend to permanently economically balkanize the White Mountains, this project should be stopped dead in its tracks. As John Harrigan so poignantly put it, “We only have the landscape left. Let’s not destroy it.”I call on all of our federal, state and local officials to speak out against the Northern Pass.Deb Reynolds of Plymouth was state senator for District 2 from 2006 to 2010.