The View from Plymouth, NH
by: Pete Martin Posted on: February 04, 2013
Photo: Pete Martin, Plymouth, NH
This article is by Pete Martin, a citizen of Plymouth, NH and retired Delta Airlines crew member, captain and instructor pilot.
Editor’s Note: A great rundown of statewide and community-based efforts in New Hampshire to elevate Americans’ rights to govern themselves above private interests and corporate “rights”. Our previous story Case Study: The Community Right to Sustainable Energy compliments this piece. Pete Martin lives in Plymouth, NH.
In the fall of 2010 communities in the north country of NH began hearing about a planned massive power line project titled Northern Pass, to transmit 1200 MW of electricity from hydroelectric dams in Quebec to southern New England. Our state was expected to host this grotesque monument to 19th century technology. In this instance New Hampshire is cursed by the geography of being between the generator of the power, Hydro Quebec, and the states to our south that want the energy. As people in NH became aware of the dangers to their environment, property values, tax base, health and economy they became very vocal in their opposition to the proposal.
Representatives from the power company, North East Utilities and its subsidiary, Public Service Company of NH (PSNH) visited selectboards in the towns in which they planned to site the project, painting a rosy picture of lots of jobs (1,200), cheap electricity, and promised tax revenue from the lines infrastructure. However, these claims do not stand up to close scrutiny. It was obvious to the citizenry that the planned project offered no benefits to the state. In March of 2011 over 30 towns along the proposed route voted at Town Meeting to reject the project.
Undeterred, the Northern Pass planners and spokespeople announced “alternate routes” that threatened even more towns. The alternate routes appeared to be hurried, and unstudied. Opposition grew rapidly. The town of Plymouth was going to be bisected through farms, wetlands, and forests protected by conservation covenants, which protect forest or farmland from residential or commercial development. My wife and I were faced with the specter of a line of 130-foot high towers marching directly across our property. Others were equally threatened. As there was no power line easement on these lands, it was obvious that the power company thought they would have access to eminent domain to force their way through. Local people declared war on the power company and its proposal.
As the people began to organize and fight back it became obvious that Northern Pass was following a long used formula to defeat public interests. Dangling jobs and promised tax revenue in front of politicians and the general public is the first step in the corporate recipe for defeating opposition. Hearings held by the Department of Energy were attended by record crowds of irate citizens, while letters and telephone calls flooded the state house and the governor’s office. However, the Project began to feel like a “done deal” as many among us realized that what we were witnessing was a Potemkin Village kind of charade – that nothing we did or said at these hearings would make any difference. Some of us started looking for alternatives, remembering that, the definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, “[i]s doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It was about that point that I heard a radio interview with Gail Darrell. She spoke of changing the way we fight back against corporate abuse and greed. She explained the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to the interviewer and listeners and I was hooked. I called her up and registered for the next Democracy School in Maine.
We have pursued two paths; legislative action and the effort to bring Rights-Based ordinances to our communities. First, Northeast Utilities, through its subsidiary, PSNH tried to change NH state law regarding the definition of large hydropower. That law does not recognize large Hydro as renewable because of the environmental damage done during construction and subsequent operation. Northern Pass lobbyists put on an intense effort to have it redefined as renewable. Our opposition forces, with the help of enlightened legislators, managed to defeat that effort. Next, PSNH lobbyists attempted to defeat a bill that would encode in statutory law what our state constitution clearly shows; that no private and for profit project may claim the power of eminent domain to take other people’s private property. Once again we prevailed. Undaunted, the Northern Pass consortium pressed on.
Our opposition group, the No Northern Pass Coalition, appealed to our Congressional representatives, both in the Senate and the House. Some made sympathetic noises and one, a Senator who is on the Senate Energy Committee, refused to get involved, saying that her job was to monitor and “make sure the process was transparent.” We realized at that point that we could not expect any help from our Congressional representatives.
After I and another Plymouth residents attended Democracy School we began to “talk it up” among opposition members. Many folks were receptive and we then asked Gail Darrell to hold two more schools in the north country of NH. The graduates of those schools soon began the education effort in their respective towns, using hand outs in local restaurants and other pubic venues, advertising in local newspapers, and holding lectures on the CELDF method, some of which were chaired by Gail. Finally, Mr. Linzey of CELDF came in person and spoke to involved citizens representing a number of towns.
While other towns were not as prepared and will try again in the coming year, three towns; Plymouth, Easton, and Sugar Hill passed Rights-Based Ordinances through town meetings. The Plymouth Ordinance includes the following language:
“Section 1 – Findings and Intent
The residents of the Town of Plymouth recognize that the current energy policies of the state of New Hampshire and the United States have long been directed by a small handful of energy corporations and the directors of those corporations, and that centralized control over energy policies forces reliance upon unsustainable industrial-scale energy production, and denies the rights of residents to a sustainable energy future.
Section 3- Statements of Law – Rights of Residents and the Natural Environment
(a) Right to a Sustainable Energy Future. The residents of Plymouth have a right to a sustainable energy future in which energy decisions are made by the community, and in which fuel sources used to generate energy are renewable and sustainable.
(e) Right to Self-Government. All residents of Plymouth possess the fundamental and inalienable right to a form of governance where they live which recognizes that all power is inherent in the people, that all free governments are founded on the people’s authority and consent, and that corporate entities and their directors and managers shall not enjoy special privileges or powers under the law which make community majorities subordinate to them.
Section 6 – Sustainable Energy Policy
The Town shall implement a Sustainable Energy Policy following the adoption of this Ordinance that provides a plan for the community’s reduction in use of power from unsustainable energy systems, within a time frame agreed to by the residents, to be decided by popular vote.”
The response from the Northern Pass corporate sponsors has been to ignore every effort on the part of the citizenry and to continue to repeat the discredited mantra of jobs and tax benefits. We continue to educate our fellow citizens about CELDF and push a new legislative agenda to physically bury all high voltage lines in our state. High Voltage Alternating Current (HVAC) lines (345 KV and higher) are extremely dangerous to health. Children living or involved in other ways within a 600-foot vicinity of HVAC lines have a 70% increase in the chance of developing leukemia and those within a third of a mile still have an increased incidence of 20%. Women in their first trimester of pregnancy have a high incidence of spontaneous abortions near lines where the Electric and Magnetic Field exceeds 4-6 MG (miligoss). Other cancers in both children and adults are also elevated. This information comes from the latest careful studies done in the UK, other European countries and Japan. The state of Connecticut is so concerned that it is mandating the burial of HVAC lines near homes, schools and other sensitive areas. The corporate sponsors of Northern Pass will not stop until we defeat them, an outcome I fully expect for we will not stop until the project is thrown out.
I fully support the philosophical basis of CELDF and think it is the vehicle with which we can return our government to where it should always dwell, in “We the People.”
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