Why Have Presidential Candidates Been Silent on Northern Pass?

Feb 9, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The next president of the United States will decide only one issue that uniquely affects New Hampshire residents. Yet as candidates of both parties blanketed the state in the final weeks before today’s primary, that issue received scant attention.

(image credit: flickr, cannuckshutterer, CC-BY-SA)

Presidential hopefuls have been conspicuously silent on Northern Pass, which would destroy viewsheds and bring little long-term benefit to New Hampshire communities. (image credit: flickr, cannuckshutterer, CC-BY-SA).

The next president will decide whether to authorize the cross-border connection to Canada’s Hydro-Québec needed for the Northern Pass electrical transmission line. The mega-utility Eversource is making a $1.4 billion bet on the line, which will ravage New Hampshire’s landscape and communities only to serve electricity customers in Massachusetts and south.

The 190-mile line would snake poles and wires through 31 communities from the Canadian border to Concord and then East to Deerfield, destroying viewsheds along scenic byways and blighting more than 400 acres of lands permanently committed to conservation. The affected acreage also includes some of New Hampshire’s most pristine forestland in the northern reaches of Coos County. Yet in response to public demands for full burial of the line and votes from more than 30 New Hampshire cities and towns to oppose the project, Eversource has been unwilling to step up.

To what end? The rationale for the line is to bring inexpensive hydroelectric power, dubbed “renewable,” to Eversource service territories other than New Hampshire. For states like Massachusetts, where Gov. Charlie Baker is closely identified with and strongly supported by Eversource’s CEO, it’s a sweet deal, rewarding a close corporate ally while letting Baker off the hook for developing homegrown renewable power projects in Massachusetts.

But both the “inexpensive” and “renewable” descriptions are dubious. Eversource has never disclosed what price it will pay for the Hydro-Québec power, or even whether it has locked the price in by contract as some of its competitors have. And the “renewable” label is not really apt for the power Northern Pass would deliver. As designed, the Hydro-Québec system has a larger carbon footprint than the wind and other renewable projects available to the states receiving the power. Plus, construction of the line mostly above ground will sacrifice significant forest acreage that now serves as a carbon-absorbing sink.

For all of Eversource’s hard-to-substantiate boasts about short-term job creation from Northern Pass construction, the mostly above ground approach forgoes much of the line’s potential for economic stimulus, while sacrificing iconic vistas that are essential to the long-term health of New Hampshire’s recreation and tourism sector.

In addition to being of direct concern to the people of New Hampshire, Northern Pass presents a microcosm of many issues at the heart of our energy platform that will face whoever wins the presidency: whether full burial of electric transmission lines should be the norm, as it always has been with gas transmission; whether we invest in huge gas and electric transmission projects on the backs of families and businesses when those projects may be obsolete before completion; and whether we embrace carbon-intensive technologies or the clean and job-creating energy options available today.

So it is remarkable that an issue of such importance to New Hampshire voters, whichever party they favor, never came to the forefront in the endless town halls and other forums leading up to today’s state primary.

Political candidates are deft, of course, at reducing tough choices like these to bumper-sticker slogans or glib generalizations (“I support an all-of-the-above energy policy”; “I believe in a clean energy future”). But a candidate’s mettle is best shown when asked to take a stand on an issue as tough and divisive as Northern Pass.

Northern Pass Enters a New Phase

Jan 8, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Northern Pass transmission project has entered a new phase, as the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee begins an extensive state permitting process for the controversial project.

Northern Pass as proposed will span 192 miles, traveling from the Canada/U.S. border in Pittsburg, through New Hampshire’s north country, down the spine of the state to Concord, and, ultimately, to Deerfield. The project would be a massive undertaking, one that the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Counsel for the Public recently described as being “of unprecedented scope for New Hampshire” and having “a lasting impact on its citizens and resources.”

The proposal would import up to 1,090 MWs of hydro-electric power from Québec, raising serious concerns not only about impacts on our landscape and communities, but also about New Hampshire’s energy future. At a time when the biggest threat facing our communities is climate change, it’s imperative that our energy choices advance clean solutions – like the development of local renewable energy – and not undermine them.

Starting next week, Northern Pass will be holding a series of information sessions about the proposed project. The sessions provide an opportunity for the public to learn more about the proposal and the Site Evaluation Committee’s review process, and to ask questions. Sessions will be taking place:

  • Merrimack County: January 11, 2016 at 6 p.m., Franklin Opera House, 316 Central Street, Franklin, NH
  • Rockingham County: January 13, 2016 at 6 p.m., Londonderry High School, 295 Mammoth Road, Londonderry, NH
  • Belknap County: January 14, 2016 at 6 p.m., Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, 62 Doris Ray Court, Laconia, NH
  • Coös County: January 20, 2016 at 6 p.m., Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, 101 Mountain View Road, Whitefield, NH
  • Grafton County: January 21, 2016 at 6 p.m., The Mountain Club on Loon Resort and Spa, 90 Loon Mountain Road, Lincoln, NH

The information sessions are an early step in the Site Evaluation Committee’s process and will be followed by a series of public hearings before the Committee. At least one public hearing will take place in each of the five counties affected by the project (Grafton, Coos, Belknap, Rockingham and Merrimack).

The dates for the hearings – which will provide the public the chance to comment directly on the project – have not been finalized. Once they are, we will let you know when and where you can make your voice heard on Northern Pass.

Exeter Forges Ahead on the Fertilizer Front

Jan 8, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee in Exeter, NH, is forging ahead with new fertilizer restrictions in the town. Established by the Town and funded by a grant from the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP), interested folks – myself included – have convened numerous times to give serious thought to how to reduce nitrogen discharge in the stormwater that drains into the Great Bay estuary. Fertilizers contribute to the harmful effects of excess nitrogen, which has been linked to the loss of eelgrass – the essential ecosystem habitat in the Bay.

Exeter has agreed – in an Administrative Order of Consent with the EPA – to build and operate a new sewage plant by the summer of 2018. Not only must the town reduce nitrogen pollution at this major source, the Order of Consent directs the Town to develop a town-wide nitrogen control plan to reduce runoff from other sources, such as stormwater. Exeter’s work on fertilizers restrictions is an important step.

Years ago, Exeter went much further in establishing shoreland protection zones than was originally mandated by state law in the 1991 New Hampshire Shoreland Protection Act. Many streams were excluded by state law, but Exeter wisely chose to include them. The draft zoning ordinance language developed by the Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee would prohibit the use of fertilizer in both the Town’s Shoreland Protection District and the Aquifer Protection District. Prohibited zones vary from 150- to 300-foot setbacks, depending on the body of water.

The Planning Board will decide on January 14 whether or not to approve the measure for inclusion on Exeter’s town meeting ballot this March. If approved, the zoning amendment will apply to existing and new development. Enforcement for any ordinance is often a challenge. The group feels that public education coupled with buy-in from turf management businesses and outlets for lawn-care products will be key.

Regardless of the ballot question vote, the Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee is poised to undertake some serious outreach and education. Indeed the group has already started a print and social media campaign. Plans are also in the works for a late-April lawn care symposium – in collaboration with the CLF Great Bay–Piscataqua Waterkeeper.

The serious problem of stormwater pollution will be partly solved by regulation, but it will ultimately take the enthusiastic efforts of committed folks like this group in Exeter.

Exeter’s Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee at work

Exeter’s Healthy Lawns-Clean Water committee at work.

New Hampshire Oil Spill Practice Deployment

Nov 5, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

What happens if there is an oil spill at a power plant or distributor on the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth or Newington, New Hampshire? If the first responders at these facilities fail to immediately control the spill, who responds as that oil moves upriver and into Little Bay and Great Bay? Enter the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ (NH DES) Coastal Oil Spill Response Team. Led by Coordinator Carroll Brown, NH DES will be on the scene in short order to prevent the migration of oil into the estuary on the incoming tide. To ensure that they are ready to respond effectively and efficiently, they conduct annual practice exercises like the one just completed in late October. Several observers, including me, were aboard the command vessel to view the effort.

Staggered boom deployment across Little Bay

Staggered boom deployment across Little Bay

The objective of the practice effort was to deploy more than a mile of orange-colored, rubberized, containment booms that are permanently stored on strategically positioned barges in Little Bay – the northern portion of Great Bay – as quickly and competently as possible. Smaller vessels pull the boom from those barges and anchor it to the shore on both sides of the bay. Larger boats then pull it taught before connecting it to anchored buoys already in place. In a little more than two hours (slightly longer than the two-hour goal), several booms were successfully deployed – meaning a moderate spill would have been prevented from moving into Great Bay proper. Using the tide and currents in the bay to advantage, the intent is to divert any surface oil to the Newington side where surface skimmers can collect the spill for removal.

Coordinator Carroll Brown explaining the boom deployment exercise to Assistant NH DES Commissioner Clark Freise

Coordinator Carroll Brown explaining the boom deployment exercise to Assistant NH DES Commissioner Clark Freise

Directing the exercise from the command vessel, Carroll Brown fielded questions from the onboard observers, noting ways to improve the effort for the future. The exercise was not complete until all the boom was stored back on to the barges – ready to be deployed in the event of a real spill.

In addition to preventing oil from entering Great Bay, the NH DES has boom deployment planning scenarios for the Oyster River, Bellamy River, and the Upper Piscataqua. But make no mistake, if the tide was out-going, the considerable strength of the tides in the Piscataqua River would negate any effort to deploy booms in the down-river portion of the river. A spill could travel several miles to the Atlantic Ocean. What the NH DES has planned and practiced is very close to the best that anyone can do for Great Bay. The best scenario, of course, would be no spill at all.

Great Bay is Cleaner Today

Sep 2, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On August 13th, Seven Rivers Paddling of Newmarket and Timberland of Stratham teamed up with Jeff Barnum, CLF’s Great Bay–Piscataqua Waterkeeper, to patrol several areas of the estuary, picking up whatever refuse they could find. “Great Bay is an estuary of national significance – one of only 28 in the U.S. – and deserves our stewardship,” said Barnum.

Clean Water Advocate Mike McDonnell and Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper cleaning up the Bay. Photo credit: Peter Sawtell

Clean Water Advocate Mike McDonnell and Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper cleaning up the Bay (Photo credit: Peter Sawtell).

Barnum added, “I really did not expect to find a great deal of trash, but in just a few hours we filled the 20-foot Waterkeeper vessel twice. And there’s much more to do. The folks from Timberland and Seven Rivers Paddling were just great.”

Peter Sawtell, owner of Seven Rivers Paddling, had this to say about the day’s efforts: “Growing up on the seacoast and learning to kayak on Great Bay showed me how important it is to help keep the Bay clean. When asked to partner in this cleanup, I was thrilled for the opportunity.”

Brianne Wood, Community Service Manager at Timberland noted, “Timberland aims to operate at the intersection of commerce and justice. We believe in providing our employees with the opportunity to make a difference in the communities where they live and work. As an outdoor company, we feel it is extremely important to invest in and protect all facets of the outdoors to ensure there are places to explore and enjoy, both now and in the future.”

This cleanup collaboration is a small but significant way of shining a light on Great Bay. The estuary is faced with many challenges – too much nitrogen, the loss of eelgrass and oysters, and stormwater pollution. But progress is being made on many fronts. Cleaning up the visible debris is just one way of showing how many people care about and value this extraordinary resource.

 

Peter Sawtell, Owner of Seven Rivers Paddling.

Peter Sawtell, Owner of Seven Rivers Paddling.

 

Clean-up crew finished for the day (Photo credit: Peter Sawtell).

Cleanup crew finished for the day (Photo credit: Peter Sawtell).

Childhood Lead Poisoning Bill Signed into Law

Jul 14, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On July 13, Governor Maggie Hassan signed a new law to better protect New Hampshire kids from the tragic and avoidable problem of lead poisoning. Passage of this important legislation is the culmination of a strong bipartisan effort, as well as the hard work of a broad group of stakeholders, including CLF.

In New Hampshire and elsewhere, the threat of childhood lead poisoning is very real. While lead paint was banned in 1978, the fact that we have a large proportion of older housing means that it remains on and in many of our homes throughout our state and region. And when that paint deteriorates (i.e, when it flakes, peels or chips), or is subject to abrasion from the friction of windows or doors being opened and closed, or is disturbed through unsafe painting or renovation activities, kids are at risk.

Each year, more than 1,000 kids are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New Hampshire. And because even low levels of exposure can result in permanent, irreversible harm – such as loss of IQ, and cognitive and behavioral impairments – it’s essential that we address this problem. SB 135, the legislation just signed into law by Governor Hassan, takes the following important, much-needed steps in doing so.

  1. Ensuring more kids are screened.

As I discussed in a prior blog, not nearly enough kids in New Hampshire are being screened for lead poisoning. In 2013, for example, of the 23,554 one- and two-year olds who should have been tested (because they live in high risk communities), only 10,830 actually were. That’s less than 40 percent. To prevent kids from falling through the cracks, and to provide kids the treatment and protection they need, New Hampshire can and must do better. Recognizing this fact, the new law establishes a screening rate milestone of 85 percent to be achieved by 2017, and requires state rules to be developed if the milestone is not achieved. It also establishes the Childhood Lead Poisoning & Screening Commission, which will explore ways to ensure the state’s screening goals are met.

  1. Getting critical information to parents and landlords.

When a child is found to have lead in his or her blood, it’s essential that steps be taken to prevent further exposure to lead hazards. Under prior law, the State was required to reach out to the parents of children with blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dl) or higher. As a result of this new law, the State will now be providing important information to the parents of children with much lower blood lead levels (5 mcg/dl or higher), to ensure they understand the consequences of lead poisoning and the steps that can be taken to avoid lead hazards. Information also will be provided to landlords, to enable them to take action to eliminate lead hazards when a tenant’s child has been found to be poisoned.

  1. Tackling the need to prevent poisonings from happening in the first place.

Of course, the most important strategy in addressing childhood lead poisoning is to prevent poisonings before they happen. As previously discussed, New Hampshire’s approach for addressing this problem is largely reactive – allowing children to be poisoned (at a blood lead level of 10 mcg/dl or higher) before action to eliminate lead hazards is required. Importantly, the Commission established by the new legislation will explore new approaches to eliminating lead hazards, such as an Essential Maintenance Practices program that would ensure that rental properties are maintained in a way that eliminates lead hazards. It also will explore new approaches to ensure that contractors and property owners are aware of lead-safe painting and renovation practices, including the federal Renovation, Repair and Painting program addressing lead-safe practices.

We’re very pleased to see SB 135 signed into law and to have been part of the effort to make this legislation happen. It’s an important step toward protecting more and more New Hampshire kids from this unfortunate and entirely preventable disease. To learn more about the problem of childhood lead poisoning, visit my other blogs on the topic:

Local Engagement, Local Waters

Jul 2, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As Great Bay–Piscataqua Waterkeeper, I consider local public engagement to be key to restoring the health of the Great Bay estuary, and it’s a major part of my work. But even for those already aware of the value of our local waters and the challenges of achieving clean water, getting engaged often is not easy. People have less and less time, it seems.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Irwin

More and more people living near Great Bay are getting involved in protecting the waters in their own backyard. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Irwin

But throughout the Seacoast, something is happening – residents concerned about their local waters (waters in their backyard, so to speak) are becoming active and tackling important issues. It’s a great thing to see, and it bodes well for the future of our Great Bay estuary and all the rivers, streams, and bays that are part of it.

In Exeter, for example, Exeter Citizens for Responsible Growth became concerned (as did I) about a local ballot question attempting to reduce the size of wetland buffers in order to fast-track development. Having won that battle in the voting booth, the group turned its attention to fertilizer use town-wide and is moving that initiative forward, since what happens in the Squamscott River sub-watershed impacts water quality in Great Bay. I’m very pleased to be working with this group – offering help and ideas.

In Dover, a significant number of residents living on the Bellamy River have become concerned with a number of local issues, including water quality in the Bellamy and in the portion of the Great Bay estuary right in front of their homes. They’ve organized themselves into the Lower Bellamy River Collaborative, and speakers – including me – have provided information on fertilizer use, current water quality impairments, oyster restoration, and more. These folks want change and are willing to spend time to make that happen. I’m confident that they’ll identify the sources of bacterial infections in that part of the Bellamy, and I look forward to working with them.

The Winnicut River Watershed Coalition, with support from the NH Rivers Council and the NH Department of Environmental Services, has convinced all the towns in this sub-watershed of Great Bay, as well as groups already working there like Great Bay Trout Unlimited, that applying for funds to support a watershed management plan is the optimum way to identify the pollution hotspots driving poor water quality and bacterial impairments. The whole effort was initially driven by the energy of just one person – but now there are many players at the table. As Waterkeeper, I’m pleased to be one of them.

Each of these efforts has success written all over them. Why? Because they’re bubbling up from within communities, engaging people in issues close to home. Folks are getting energized to tackle the challenges facing their local waters. And as that happens more and more, that’s a great thing for the estuary.

If you live on the Seacoast (or even if you don’t) and you want to get involved, please get in touch with me at jbarnum@clf.coreybranstrom.com. We’re always looking for folks to join our Clean Water Advocates for Great Bay group. And if you want to get involved in one of the local efforts described above, I’d be happy to help connect you with the people leading those efforts. No matter how you choose to help, your voice matters and will be heard.

Portsmouth to Proceed with Long-Awaited, New Sewage Treatment Plant

Jun 22, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Portsmouth, New Hampshire, City Council recently reaffirmed its commitment to build a new sewage treatment plant at the site of the present antiquated facility on Peirce Island. Completion of the long-awaited upgrade may still be a few years away, though it could have happened sooner if the City had elected to shift its plans to a location at the Pease Tradeport. But the decision to rebuild at Peirce Island is still good news for the Piscataqua River and Great Bay estuary, which can’t afford further delay.Google PI

Portsmouth’s current sewage plant at Peirce Island is still failing to meet one of the most basic requirements of the Clean Water Act – so-called “secondary treatment” to reduce suspended solids and other pollution. While EPA has provided a ramp-up period to achieve that standard, until the upgrade is completed, it continues to exceed Clean Water Act discharge levels by 475 tons per year of total suspended solids and 877 tons per year of biological oxygen-demanding pollution. And, the plant’s potentially high discharges of bacteria and viruses have resulted in the closure of the shellfish beds in Little Harbor and along the Atlantic coast south to Odiorne Point. Upgrading Peirce Island to modern standards, and addressing these and other pollutants, is critical to restoring the health of our estuary.

We’ve worked for years to ensure progress at Portsmouth’s Peirce Island sewage treatment plant – one of the largest controllable sources of pollution in the estuary. We’re pleased to see the City Council avoiding the further delays that would have resulted from a last-minute change of plan, and we’ll continue to work to ensure the project stays on track. As towns like Exeter and Newmarket make progress upgrading their sewage treatment facilities, it’s important that the Seacoast’s largest city does the same.

Lead Law Moving Forward in New Hampshire Legislature

May 21, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

MBTA-spotlight

Photo credit: Ecophotography

While many of us believe childhood lead poisoning is a thing of the past, the sad truth is that it’s not. In fact, every year, more than 1,000 New Hampshire children are poisoned by lead, with deteriorating lead-based paints the primary cause. The impacts of lead poisoning can be devastating and lifelong. Children can suffer a loss of IQ, behavioral difficulties, and organ and nerve damage. While the problem is statewide and affects all communities and people of all walks of life, many of the children impacted come from families that are already struggling, including low-income families living in substandard housing.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A bipartisan bill, SB 135, is making its way through the New Hampshire legislature that would protect children in our state.

The bill has already passed the New Hampshire House and Senate with strong support, with potential negotiations regarding amendments taking place between the two legislative bodies before being sent to Governor Hassan for her consideration. If the bill passes the legislature and Governor Hassan signs it into law, children across New Hampshire will benefit.

SB 135 is common-sense legislation. With better education, enhanced screening to make sure New Hampshire kids don’t fall through the cracks, and improved maintenance standards for rental properties, we can prevent lead poisoning and all its tragic costs. The lead poisoning prevention bill would put us on a clear path to achieving these important goals and keeping New Hampshire children safe.

More in-depth information on addressing lead poisoning in New Hampshire can be found in the following blog posts: