Wildlife biologists, wetland ecologists, archaeologists … Up to 60 experts in a variety of fields have been engaged in a significant data collection effort that will provide vital information to federal and state agencies tasked with evaluating The Northern Pass project.
Coordinated by Normandeau Associates, an environmental consulting firm out of Bedford, NH, the team of scientists has been focused on sections of the project’s preliminary preferred route that follow existing rights of way. With permission from individual landowners, the team is now beginning to collect data on properties where expanded or new rights of way may be needed. Experts are identifying and logging information such as the presence of certain plants and animals, wetlands, wildlife habitats, and areas of archaeological and/or historic sensitivity.
Along with public comments and information available from state and federal agencies, these data will be used to help produce the Department of Energy’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is required as part of a federal and state review process. Data collected by Normandeau will also be used to help avoid and minimize environmental impacts along the proposed route.
“There will be a very thoughtful and careful evaluation of environmental impacts and alternatives associated with this project,” said Bob Varney, senior vice president at Normandeau. “Field staff have been walking the existing rights of way, recording and mapping resources along the way.”
Burns & McDonnell, the firm hired by Northern Pass Transmission to conduct the preliminary routing and design studies for the project, relied primarily on information available from non-governmental organizations and state and federal agencies to help evaluate numerous alternative routes, and to avoid/minimize impacts in determining the project’s preliminary preferred route.
Normandeau scientists are picking up where they left off, using this information as a starting point for the collection of field data that will provide even greater detail about potential environmental impacts. Part of Normandeau’s mission is the mapping of wetlands and other sensitive resources.
“Everyone needs to know exactly where these resources are so that the project can try to avoid them, if possible,” said Varney. “The GIS data from Burns & McDonnell is downloaded into GPS units for our field personnel, so they know exactly where the edges of the rights of way are located. The GPS units allow us to be very precise in evaluating our study corridors.”
Normandeau scientists will return to the field in the coming months to collect information that is seasonally dependent, such as the presence of certain animal tracks and vernal pools. According to Varney, it is essential for the scientists to provide a complete and comprehensive view of all potential impacts associated with the project.