By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — The city of Berlin will not support a petition drive underway to get the state Site Evaluation Committee to initiate a new docket addressing the issue of who controls local roads.
Mayor Paul Grenier called the petition filed by 18 towns “another delaying tactic” by opponents of the Northern Pass transmission line.
The issue was on the agenda at Tuesday’s city council meeting because the city received a letter from Pittsburg Selectmen Chair Steve Ellis on behalf of the towns of Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown, asking Berlin to write a letter “to defend the principle of home rule as it relates to municipal roads.”
Ellis explained that Eversource claims it has the right to appropriate municipal transportation rights-of-way to build its proposed 192-mile power line from Pittsburg to Deerfield without consulting or the approval of the various municipalities.
He argued state statute clearly gives municipalities the exclusive authority to permit and license uses of municipally owned rights-of-way. Ellis said Eversource claims the Site Evaluation Committee has the power to preempt the statute. He wrote that it is the “height of arrogance” for Northern Pass, partnering with a large foreign utility, to commandeer the local transportation corridor for their exclusive financial benefit without approval from the municipality.
Fifteen other municipalities as well as the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests have joined the petition and Ellis has sent a letter to every municipality in the state asking for support.
But Grenier viewed the issue differently, arguing the SEC was established specifically so that large energy projects like Northern Pass would not have to go through every municipality for approval. Instead, he said the Legislature vested the SEC with the authority to review and approve the planning, siting, construction and operation of energy facilities. The mayor said the SEC just underwent a public review process and the Legislature made some changes but kept the committee’s mission the same. He said he respects the SEC process.
An outspoken supporter of Northern Pass, Grenier said Coos County desperately needs the tax revenues and jobs the project would provide.
He proposed the council not send a letter supporting the petition, suggesting if anything, the city write a letter in support of the SEC process.
The council agreed it will stay out of the debate over local roads and right-of-ways.