The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that the proposal by Northern Pass to use public highways for underground installation of electric transmission lines is clearly allowed under state law. The decision upholds a previous ruling by the NH Superior Court that dismissed a claim by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (Forest Society).
In its decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that the project’s proposal is within the scope of the highway easement, and that the NH Department of Transportation (NHDOT) has the final say on the matter:
“We conclude that use of the Route 3 right-of-way for the installation of an underground high voltage direct current electrical transmission line, with associated facilities, falls squarely within the scope of the public highway easement as a matter of law, and that such use is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DOT to regulate. Through RSA 231:160 and RSA 231:161, the legislature has definitively found, consistent with our case law, that the use of highway easements for utility transmission lines is a reasonable use of the easement.”
In its November 2015 lawsuit, the Forest Society argued that Northern Pass must seek approval from the Society in order to bury a portion of the line within the public right-of-way next to property it owns, and that burial of a transmission line does not represent proper use of the roadways. In May 2016, the NH Superior Court rejected this claim, saying that the project’s proposed use is “within the scope of the highway easement,” and agreed that the NHDOT, not the Forest Society, has “exclusive jurisdiction over whether to grant the project the necessary permits and licenses.”
As we’ve previously noted, the Forest Society has frequently demanded Northern Pass be buried, yet in this case, had filed this lawsuit to prevent its burial. The Forest Society has also continued to raise the false notion that the use of eminent domain is possible for Northern Pass, when state law clearly prevents it, and the project does not require its use.
Northern Pass is currently in the midst of the New Hampshire siting process and anticipates a final decision by the NH Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) later this year. NHDOT participates in the state permitting process, and a representative from the agency sits on the SEC.
Northern Pass proposes to bury a total of 60 miles of the transmission line along public roadways, including a 52-mile stretch that eliminates visual impacts in the White Mountain National Forest, the Appalachian Trail, and the Franconia Notch area. The federal permitting process also continues and includes a full review by the U.S. Department of Energy.