Former state senator Jackie Cilley posted this legislative action update on June 13, 2011:
Legislative Action Alert Week of June 13, 2011, Jackie Cilley (firstname.lastname@example.org) Of Lupines and Electric Towers wrote:
Bruce and I skipped Maine last weekend and instead took a drive to Sugar Hill. We were glad we did. The town was celebrating the second weekend of a 17 day Lupine Festival dedicated to the ornamental plant in the pea family. Despite the forecasted isolated shower that became a steady rain throughout the day, no amount of grey skies could overshadow the landscape of brilliant pastel colors.
As we climbed hills into town we saw other visitors pull to the side of the road and emerge with cameras in hand. Some of the shutter bugs were obviously amateurs with their miniature Nikon Coolpix Touch screens used to snap a pretty picture. Others lugged out their tripods to hold their Canon EOS 1DS Mark III to capture a singular image that might end up in some magazine or framed on somebody’s wall. The panorama would not disappoint either.
We visited the open air market where lupines were present in every modality possible. Photographs and canvasses of watercolors and oils sported everything from a single lupine with a fat bumblebee at work pollinating to vast meadows of color. There was pottery with signature lupine and lupine inspired candles for sale throughout the market.
Among the vendors stood a booth whose orange bows and signs contrasted sharply with the pastels of lupine. Messages of “Stop Northern Pass” and “Stop the Towers,” belied the booth’s unique purpose. It was, in fact, the other reason that we had made the trip at the invitation of one of its most vocal and passionate volunteers, Nancy Martland.
This signage had been visible in front of virtually every property leading into or out of Sugar Hill. The landscape for many residents will profoundly change if Northern Pass comes to fruition. The community will change for all of them.
For those unfamiliar, Northern Pass is a partnership project of Northeast Utilities, Connecticut-based owners of Public Service Company of New Hampshire and Hydro Quebec, a Quebec Province generator of electric power. Its purpose is to bring high voltage DC (direct current) power lines from Quebec to a substation in Franklin, NH that will convert the power into AC (alternating current) and send it on its way to Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
Folks throughout Coos and Grafton counties are up in arms over the project. More than 2,500 have shown up at public meetings or hearings on Northern Pass. The potential change to their landscape is disheartening enough, but the issue that has them mobilized and unified is the use of eminent domain to take their land. While PSNH has rights of way for some of the project, eminent domain will be needed to acquire all of the land necessary for completion.
To prevent this, opponents encouraged legislators to bring forward HB 648 to restrict the use of eminent domain by a utility company to cases in which the electricity is needed for system reliability. That bill passed easily in the House but foundered in the Senate where it was re-referred to committee.
It was over a story in the Alert on this legislation that Nancy contacted me and we began an e-mail correspondence about the impacts to her community from Northern Pass. It was at her urging that Bruce and I were in Sugar Hill.
As the rain intensified and we wrapped up visiting all of the vendors, Nancy invited us for a cup of coffee at her home about a mile away. She and her husband Carl live in an 1850 farmhouse that sits about halfway up a steep hill. Sitting on her sun porch one can see for miles around. In the distance Cannon Mountain and the Kinsmans range shape the horizon. Closer in and across the street the land slopes gently away with its meadow grasses and abundance of colorful lupine.
As we admired the view, Nancy pointed out where the 140 foot towers would slice right through the middle of the skyscape. I suspect that the coffee invitation was designed for us to see just that. It was, of course, not only the Martland views that would change irreversibly with Northern Pass but those of many other landowners in the community.
It’s easy to see how their lovingly groomed property will lose its market value. Even now sales have been stymied over the potential of Northern Pass. Moreover, the damage to the tourism business in the area seems inevitable if Northern Pass is completed. It is difficult to imagine anyone wanting pictures of lupine with electrical towers in the fore- or background.
Opponents of the Northern Pass project are counting on their government to ensure protection of their property and their way of life. They are despondent at the re-referral of HB 648, but are looking forward to a happier result as this bill is worked on and brought to a vote next year. In a political climate in which an increasing number of our legislators believe that the market can be an arbiter of all disputes, it is clear what the outcome will be if government fails to carefully defend our citizens’ interests. Even 2,500 opponents are no match for the billions of corporate dollars being expended on this project.