WHITEFIELD — Eversource plans to rebuild an 18-mile transmission line from Whitefield to Northumberland.
It’s not Northern Pass, but some have questioned the project’s visual impacts.
The Conservation Commission on Wednesday expressed concern that two new poles in the Mt. Prospect/Weeks State Park viewshed would measure 80 feet, about 35 taller than the existing poles.
“Eighty feet, that’s as tall as our cell tower. That’s going to be a visible sucker,” said ConCom chairman Frank Lombardi.
The area in question currently has three 45-foot-tall poles, the middle one located in a wetland. To minimize wetland impact, Eversource plans to remove the middle pole, and replace the bookend poles with 80-foot structures.
To put it simply, removing the middle pole creates a longer gap for the wire to cross. The longer the gap, the taller the other towers need to be, Eversource officials said.
ConCom members who were concerned about the view impact on Weeks State Park asked if that section of line could be reconfigured, to reduce pole height. Eversource offered no firm commitment but promised to look into the matter.
“If it’s something the commission would like us to look at we can certainly look at adding another structure of two, but the reason why we have the design the way it is now is because it is optimized not only for cost, to keep costs down, but also to limit wetland impacts,” said an Eversource official.
Meanwhile, responding to ConCom queries, Eversource said the proposed rebuild was a necessary maintenance project and had no connection to Northern Pass, the failed Canadian hydropower transmission project that faced heavy local opposition.
Rob Christie, a member of the Lancaster Conservation Commission, said the proposed Whitefield-to-Northumberland transmission line rebuild was a necessary project.
It would install new wire along an 18-mile corridor and replace 202 wooden H-frame structures with steel H-frames.
The existing H-frames are over 70-years-old, dating back to when the line was built in 1948.
“I can tell you that in Lancaster, the Weeks [State Park] people are very concerned about any further impact to the viewshed. And yes there will be some. But you can already sort of see the power line already. I think Northern Pass was an order of magnitude different, with towers over 100 feet tall. But we’re talking about a slight rise here,” Christie said, calling the projects “apples and oranges.”
Noting that he can see the power lines from his home, Christie continued, “I’m not an apologist for Eversource or Northern Pass, but you’ve got to be practical here. We need the lights to come on around here, and this isn’t shuttling power from Canada to Derry and down into Boston. This is fixing the local line that has been there for [over 70] years.”
As part of the project, Eversource is offering $3,000 in mitigation funds to the Whitefield Conservation Commission for shovel-ready projects. Projects could include plantings along the John’s River or in the vicinity of the under-construction sewage treatment plant. The matter remains under discussion.
The Conservation Commission will continue talks with Eversource at their next meeting on June 9.
If all goes according to plan, construction of the Whitefield to Northumberland rebuild is expected to begin sometime between July and September of this year and conclude in the final quarter of 2022.
The project will require local permits from the Whitefield, Lancaster and Northumberland Conservation Commissions, state permits from DES and DOT, and federal permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
NOTE: Wednesday’s Conservation Commission meeting was briefly interrupted by a ‘Zoom bomb’ incident. Unknown people were allowed into the meeting and subsequently broadcast violent images and shouted racial epithets. The meeting was quickly stopped and re-started and continued without issue.