Document proposes approval of Northern Pass underground route in the White Mountain National Forest
Northern Pass was pleased to get the news in early September that the U.S. Forest Service had released its Draft Record of Decision (ROD) recommending that the agency issue a special use permit allowing the project to bury approximately 11 miles of transmission lines in areas along existing roads through the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). The Draft ROD is another significant step forward for Northern Pass in the permitting process, and comes on the heels of the Final Environmental Impact Statement released by the U.S. Department of Energy in August — both highlighting the soundness of the proposal and the benefits to New Hampshire and the region.
“This proposed decision by the U.S. Forest Service continues to move Northern Pass forward so that it will have all necessary state and federal permits to begin construction by mid-2018,” Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan said. “It is consistent with the key findings of other permitting agencies, including the Department of Energy, the NH Department of Environmental Services and the NH Department of Transportation.”
The Draft ROD is the culmination of seven years of review and extensive public input. In 2015, Northern Pass announced an improved route that included 52 additional miles of underground to avoid any potential view impacts in and around the WMNF or along the Appalachian Trail. The Draft ROD supports the project’s conclusion that burial along Interstate 93 is not a reasonable alternative, and states that the improved route “is a reasonable way to transmit electrical power through the WMNF in a minimally impactful way when considering all available alternatives.”
The Forest Service also said that the project will increase the reliability of New England’s power supply by reducing reliance on imported natural gas; helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with public policy goals and the New Hampshire Climate Action Plan; and, providing “meaningful benefits to air quality” in the White Mountain National Forest.
“Meeting long-term energy needs in a sustainable, secure, and cost-effective manner for this region of the country is certainly in the public’s interest,” the Forest Service states.
The following excerpts are from the U.S. Forest Service Draft Decision
■ “I fully understand and acknowledge that there will be short-term, construction-related, impacts to natural and cultural resources on the WMNF, visitors to the area, and private lands/properties located along NH Routes 112 and 116. My decision does not ignore or make light of these effects. I believe the intensity and duration of these effects is more than outweighed by the benefits associated with bringing additional hydropower to the New England grid.”
■ “I believe that the technology is comprehensive, and that the Applicant possesses the ability to effectively construct, operate, and maintain the line underground…since these alternatives bury the line on the WMNF, instead of the initial proposal for overhead lines, I believe the tradeoffs and environmental impacts to the National Forest and connected areas under Alternatives 4c and 7 are reasonable.”
■ “…the alternatives utilizing I-93 are not consistent with my understanding of NHDOT policies… Therefore, I did not select alternatives that buried the transmission line across the WMNF in the I-93 corridor.”
Important Agreement, Part of Federal Permitting Process Finalized
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has finalized a Programmatic Agreement (PA) regarding Northern Pass, which marks further progress in the federal permitting process for the clean energy project. The PA is a legally binding agreement that prescribes the steps necessary to complete the federal and state agency review of historic and archeological resources, including addressing any adverse effects. The PA is part of a larger process under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and is separate from the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) environmental review.
The signatories to the PA include officials from DOE, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Interior, the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources, and Northern Pass Transmission.
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