Appalachian Mountain Club Study Identifies Significant Visual Impacts
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Sept. 26, 2012
COOS COUNTY, N.H. – The proposed Northern Pass electric transmission line project would have a significant visual impact on such resources of state and national significance as Franconia Notch State Park, Pawtuckaway State Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and the White Mountain National Forest, according to a visual impact analysis released today by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).
Visual impacts could severely affect the North Country’s most valuable asset—its scenery—and its importance in drawing tourists to the region. Tourism spending is a critical economic driver in the region.
The analysis also revealed that the widening of an existing 120-mile transmission corridor up to 410 feet, and construction of additional towers up to 135 feet, could visually impact 95,000 acres in New Hampshire, including 3,000 acres in the White Mountain National Forest and six scenic outlooks and a trail crossing along the Appalachian Trail. Undocumented in AMC’s analysis are the visual impacts for the northernmost segment of the project, because 60 or more miles of the route have yet to be identified by Northern Pass.
AMC filed its findings with the Department of Energy (DOE) Sept. 25 as an addendum to its earlier scoping comments. DOE is one of three agencies (two federal and one state) that must rule on permits being sought by Northern Pass, LLC, and the project applicant.
Visual impacts of the project would also affect such public resources as the Pondicherry Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, as well as four rivers and four scenic and cultural byways specially designated by the state of New Hampshire. Many towns could also be visually impacted, according to AMC’s study. Visual impacts may affect more than 9,000 acres in Concord and more than 5,000 acres in Jefferson and Whitefield.
AMC conducted the visual impact assessment this summer in response to the lack of any visual data in the Northern Pass permit application to DOE. “That DOE had advanced this application to the public scoping phase without any visual impact analysis for public review is highly unusual for an environmental review process and, to date, has left this data void for the public to fill. This is very unfair to the public,” said Kenneth D. Kimball, Ph.D., director of research for the Appalachian Mountain Club.
“It is paramount that the permit reviewing agencies now guarantee that a thorough and honest assessment of the visual impacts of this proposal be conducted and used in the decision-making process,” Kimball said.[emphases added.]
AMC’s analysis followed U.S. Forest Service-accepted principles for scenery impact analysis and used best available information and computer modeling to determine the degree of potential impact and to identify high-priority viewpoints where site-specific analysis should be done properly, once Northern Pass makes available its actual engineering plans. AMC’s models used conservative parameters, assuming tower heights of only 90 feet, although they could be as high as 135 feet. Screening of views by the forest was also considered. Kimball noted the analysis could not model necessary increases in existing corridor widths, since the applicant has not made that site-specific data publicly available, with the exception of new tower information just recently announced in regard to a 10-mile corridor through the White Mountain National Forest.
“Northern Pass’s release last week of a plan to replace approximately 50- foot-high wooden towers with 85-foot-high steel monopole towers and additional 85-foot-high steel lattice towers in the section proposed to run through the White Mountain National Forest would not alter in any practical way the results of the AMC study,” he said.
The AMC visual impact study only focused on the known 120-mile corridor, examining cumulative impacts to the state, considering how individual towns might be visually impacted, and identifying priority sites where standard visual assessment tools, such as photo simulations, should be conducted as part of the permitting process.
AMC field-checked its analysis with site visits to nearly 90 of 140 vantage points that were identified in the known corridor to have scenic viewpoints of state or national significance. Such areas include specific viewpoints on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, vistas along the I-93 gateway section to Franconia Notch, and the popular Mount Pemigewasset vista on the border of the White Mountain National Forest and Franconia Notch State Park. “It is clear from the study that the proposed Northern Pass transmission corridor is of sufficient size to be an incongruous industrial intrusion on the natural appearance of the surrounding landscape,” Kimball said.
Though not part of its application materials to DOE, Northern Pass posted 12 visual simulation photographs on its website in 2011, noting that they were “prepared to help inform community officials and members of the public as to what the project might look like.”
“Unfortunately,” said Kimball, “their simulated views appear to have been chosen without a strong rationale and did not take into account many viewpoints of state and national significance within the project area. Furthermore, the timing and locations of the photo simulations on Northern Pass’s website are problematic. For example, one of the photos is taken on a late October afternoon when the project corridor is within the shadow line at dusk – hardly representative relative to basic visual assessment protocol, if informing the public was their purpose,” Kimball said.
Northern Pass, LLC, is a venture of Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire. Northern Pass is seeking permit approval to construct an above-ground, 140-mile or longer 350 kV high-voltage DC power transmission line through New Hampshire to transmit up to 1,200 megawatts of power generated by Canada’s Hydro-Quebec to a power converter station in Franklin, N.H. The DC power is then to be converted to AC and would need an additional 40-mile transmission line to connect to a network power distribution grid in Deerfield, N.H., for further distribution.
AMC’s visual impact assessment study was funded in part by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, which has no position on the Northern Pass project.
A link to AMC’s visual assessment, as well as more information on AMC’s position on the Northern Pass, can be found here.
Link to news release with photos: here.