Northern Pass foes are Union Leader Citizens of the Year
The battle was quintessential David vs. Goliath.
Picture a diverse band of citizen activists mostly from very small towns fighting the state’s largest utility, which wants to bring Quebec hydropower via high-voltage transmission lines through New Hampshire onto the New England power grid.
It took nearly a decade, but their long shot paid off last July with the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to reject Eversource’s final appeal of the state Site Evaluation Committee’s denial of permits essential for the project.
Those were a few of the qualities that made opponents of the Northern Pass project the Union Leader 2019 Citizens of the Year…..
The campaign against the project had many turning points, including:
• The List: Opponents credit retired teacher Susan Schibanoff with creating a massive email chain that enabled like-minded people to keep in touch, most of them many miles apart. She also maintained a blog that chronicled all of the major events in the campaign.
For her work, Schibanoff was awarded the Forest Society’s Volunteer of the Year Award.
“If I think about it, email was a way for us to be connected and stay on top of all the many developments along the way. If this had happened during a time before there was email, I’m not sure we win this fight,” Martland said.
• The Film: Anti-Northern Pass sentiment received widespread media play, including countless op-ed articles, essays and letters to the editors of local papers. But several interviewed said the most powerful was “Northern Trespass,” a documentary done by North County filmmakers Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughn.
The piece included a cautionary tale — a section about a landmark 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that eminent domain powers could be used to transfer land from one private owner to another private owner if a clear public benefit resulted.
“Citing the Kelo case about commercial development in downtown New London, Conn., was really brilliant because it resonated with people and put everyone on notice this could happen here,” said Savage, of the Forest Society.
From NH Magazine, December 2013:
Pass de Deux
Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughn
Photo by John Hession
If the Northern Pass project — connecting the energy reservoir of Hydro-Quebec with the New England power grid by cutting a swath of power lines through New Hampshire (mostly along existing rights-of-way) — could be considered a Goliath, then it couldn’t have called out a feistier team to play “David” than Jan Marvel (left) and Michelle Vaughn. Jan owns Marvel Signs & Designs in Thornton that just happens to print posters and bumper stickers. Oh, and the two friends also produce music and Jan writes songs. Their first major act of resistance against “Goliath” was a touching music video titled “What We Have Left”. With little skills for film production, they had to call on their musical buddy Tom Rush who helped arrange a pro-bono videographer to assist. Once they felt comfortable in the visual medium, they set out to make a full-length protest film titled “Northern Trespass” that has become a rallying point for the burgeoning opposition to the power lines. “There’s a lot of tentacles to this and if we don’t stop it now it will be unstoppable in the future,” says Marvel.
‘Northern Trespass’ follows controversial power project
PORTSMOUTH — The color orange is often symbolic of caution. This color dominates in the film “Northern Trespass,” a documentary about the controversial Northern Pass Project.
During the hour-long film, shown twice Saturday at The Music Hall Loft, opponents of the project wore bright orange T-shirts, berets and protest pins.
“Northern Trespass” was produced by Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughn, both of Thornton, who spent two years filming in Québec, Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire and New London, Conn.
The film begins with a bubbling brook and quickly switches to noisy towers transmitting hydroelectric power from Quebec. There are interviews with residents in bucolic settings along the proposed 187-mile route from Canada, through the center of the state, ending in Deerfield.
There was also an interview with a physician who talked about the higher incidence of cancer in people living near power lines giving off low-frequency electromagnetic radiation
The film addresses the impact of the construction of more than 1,500 large, steel transmission towers from Coos to Rockingham counties.
Northern Pass is a partnership between Northeast Utilities, Public Service of New Hampshire and Hydro-Quebec to bring hydropower to New England. It still requires certain federal and state permits before construction can begin.
A state Certificate of Site and Facility from the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) is required for siting energy facilities in New Hampshire, such as natural gas pipelines, certain electric power generating plants, and high-voltage transmission lines, including Northern Pass.
Lee Sullivan of Arundel, Maine, gave opening remarks before the lights dimmed.
“Last spring, I saw a (real estate) listing that my family’s old second home in Easton was for sale,” Sullivan said. “It was at a bargain basement price and the Realtor said it was because of the Northern Pass.”
Sullivan attended a meeting in Easton where residents of the North Country said it was time for residents of the southern portion of the state to “wake up to what was happening.”
She added that the Northern Pass will eventually affect residents on the Seacoast as it ends in Rockingham County in Deerfield.
The first showing at 4 p.m. Saturday was well attended by an audience of about 100 sympathetic viewers.
After the film, Marvel and Vaughn, along with Jack Savage of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, held a question-and-answer session.
“We wanted to show the human aspects of this project, not just the facts and figures PSNH spits out,” Vaughn said.
Savage said the project would include 10 miles through the White Mountain National Forest.
“My personal feeling would be to bury as much of the line as they could,” he said.
The three major concerns of the project, according to the filmmakers, were the effects on health, tourism and real estate.
Lauren Collins, spokeswoman for Northern Pass LLC, said she watched the film on DVD Friday night.
“First of all, a lot of the footage of the power lines were taken in Canada,” she said Saturday evening. “The width of the lines seen in the film is not what is planned for New Hampshire. It is visually misleading.”
She added that the film came out around the same time in the spring of 2013 when the Northern Pass had changed the route.
The first eight miles of the project near the Canadian border will be underground, but Collins said it would be very difficult to go underground through the White Mountain range.
“The landscape of New Hampshire would make it cost prohibitive to go underground,” she said.
She added that studies from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed “marginal scientific evidence linking AC current to cancer.”
As far as the tourism, Collins said there has never been a significant study showing a negative effect on tourism because of power lines. She added that a 2011 study by Underwood Real Estate of Littleton and Deerfield shows that the project was not affecting the market.
Collins said Northern Pass is hoping to receive the necessary permits by early 2015 and has a goal of completion by mid-2017.
If anything, “Northern Trespass” will get people talking.
Dale Whisler of Atkinson was visiting friends in Portsmouth and a group of seven came to the afternoon showing of the film.
“I’m wondering how we can influence the SEC,” he said of the Site Evaluation Committee. “They are a statewide planning board. In local towns, we have planning boards and zoning boards of adjustment who have a vested interest in more development. I’d like to know more about the SEC.”
Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughn are not objective when it comes to the Northern Pass project. The Thornton filmmakers have been opposed to the large-scale energy project since it was announced in 2010. Through their sign business, they produced bumper stickers and signs that opponents displayed at meetings and throughout the North Country. But after a year of speaking out against the project, Marvel and Vaughn wanted opponents of the project to have a louder, more accessible voice.
“Because there’s so much money behind corporations and the utilities, although the opposition voice carries a great amount of people, we thought that if we had a documentary, it could really be the voice of the opposition,” Vaughn said.
In 2011, they began work on “Northern Trespass,” an hour-long documentary that seeks to “expose” the project as an unnecessary, profit-driven plan that will destroy the state’s natural resources and negatively affect tourism and property values in the North Country.
The Northern Pass is a $1.4 billion project owned by Northeast Utilities that will bring electricity from a Hydro-Québec power plant in Canada through New Hampshire and into New England’s power grid by way of a direct current transmission line from the Canadian border to Franklin. There, a converter terminal will convert the electricity from DC to AC, and a second transmission line will bring the electricity through the state to a substation in Deerfield.
Project officials say the Northern Pass will create 1,200 construction jobs, that it will save New Hampshire consumers $20-35 million in energy costs each year, and that it will bring in $1.1 billion in county, state, and municipal tax revenues over the next 40 years. Opponents debate the accuracy of these estimates.
Along with the sign business, the two filmmakers also run a small record label and have a small recording studio. They’re both musicians, and Vaughn is a sound engineer. Although they had no prior experience with producing a film, Marvel says they applied the same creative abilities used in their other businesses to the movie.
For Vaughn, filmmaking ability was less important than having a wealth of sources willing to share their reasons for opposing the project. “We knew people would be more relaxed and wanting us to interview them,” she says. “Since it’s not some stranger asking … these questions, that kind of helped.”
It took Vaughn and Marvel two years to produce the film. They conducted interviews, shot footage, and did the editing themselves. “Part of the challenge was that the subject is so huge, with so many issues and so many people,” Marvel says. “We tried to give it a warmer side, so that you’re really personally meeting people who would be affected.”
In the film, Marvel and Vaughn interview North Country residents who will in some way be impacted by the project.
Those residents include Lynn Placey, who’s refused to sell her Stewartstown property to Northeast Utilities, and John Amey, an organic dairy farmer in Pittsburg who’s helped lead the opposition to the project. Vaughn and Marvel also traveled to Canada where they viewed properties that have been taken over by Hydro-Québec for other transmission line projects, and to Connecticut, where they interviewed residents whose property was taken through eminent domain for an unrelated large-scale project.
The film also addresses Northeast Utilities’ claims that the project will bring 1,200 jobs to the state and that the energy generated will be green and sustainable. For Marvel, Vaughn, and other opposition members, the project is, at best, unnecessary. Demand for energy is declining they say, and if anything, the money Northeast Utilities is spending on the project would be better spent on conservation efforts. The large transmission towers and power lines are a boondoggle, they say, and the project could be improved simply by burying the power lines.
“We wanted to not only set the facts straight, we wanted to not just talk about the project … we wanted to bring humanity into this,” Vaughn says.
Marvel and Vaughn and other opposition members staged a “Hands Across the Border” event, in which residents in Canada and New Hampshire opposed to the project dressed in bright orange (the opposition’s official color) and linked hands across the border.
If the film is one-sided, it’s by choice. Marvel calls it a “David and Goliath situation.” “Hydro-Québec and Northeast Utilities, the kind of money they’re putting into their PR machine and propaganda is enormous,” she says. “How do you fight a machine like that? They have so many people, so many lobbyists, their legal team … that are being paid salaries to do this every single day.”
The screening at The Music Hall will be the film’s eighth showing. Marvel and Vaughn are working on a French-Canadian version of the film for Canadian audiences. Marvel says other screenings throughout the state are planned. “We’re really pleased with the response we’re getting,” she says.
Although the Northern Pass debate is heated in the North Country, discussion of the project elsewhere in the state is infrequent. Marvel hopes the film changes that.
“We hope this is a little bit of a wake-up call. People tend only to get concerned if it’s going to affect them,” she says. If the Northern Pass is approved, Marvel believes that it’s only a matter of time before other large-scale energy projects come into the state.
“We don’t want to see this beautiful state trashed so that stockholders … can fatten their wallets at our expense,” she says.
And the reality is that the project will cover a large area of the state. “It’s not only a North Country issue. It would really affect the entire state. This project goes all the way down to Deerfield and some of the largest towers are from Franklin to Concord and Allenstown,” Vaughn says.
The project is still seeking approval from various state and federal agencies. In June 2013, Northern Pass officials submitted a new route for transmission lines to the U.S. Department of Energy for approval. Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee is expected to begin a review of the project in mid-2014.
Vaughn is hopeful that opposition to the project will ultimately scuttle the Northern Pass. “They’ve hit so many roadblocks,” she says. When the project was first announced in 2010, Vaughn says Northeast Utilities had hoped construction would be complete and the transmission lines would be operational by 2015. That timeline has been pushed back, according to Vaughn, and 2017 is now the target year for construction to begin. “They might just continue to spin their wheels,” she says.
“Northern Trespass” will screen at The Music Hall on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets, $4, can be purchased at The Music Hall,28 Chestnut St. in Portsmouth, by calling 603-436-2400, or online at themusichall.org.
Bonner hosting documentary screening to get youths involved in Northern Pass discussion
By SARAH PALERMO
(Published in print: Friday, July 19, 2013)
Kids these days. What do they like? Well, they like movies, and they like celebrities. So a locally grown celebrity has thrown his name and his presence behind an event designed to get young people informed about what he sees as the downsides of the Northern Pass project.
Matt Bonner, a Concord High School graduate who plays for the San Antonio Spurs, is hosting a screening and discussion of Northern Trespass, a documentary about the potential impact of the proposed power transmission lines from Quebec to Deerfield.
Bonner has been a critic of the plan since it was announced in 2010, but he said that at the events he’s attended, he noticed the attendees’ ages skewed toward the retiree end of the spectrum.
“This is, if anything, more important to the younger generation because it’s going to affect them more than anything. . . . This project, if it were to happen, is going to be a part of their lives for longer, part of their kids’ lives, and their kids’ kids are going to have to live with this,” Bonner said.
“Besides, it could open up a Pandora’s box, setting a precedent, and if something like this can happen in our state, what’s to say more corporations aren’t going to come in with projects like this?”
The movie provides an overview of Northern Pass and the arguments against it, to counter what Bonner called the deep pockets of the companies behind the project.
“They have the money to put a heck of a PR campaign together and really try to push the information that they want pushed across to make the project look like somehow it will help our state,” he said.
“Once people get educated, it’s a no-brainer: They have to either bury (the transmission lines) or scrap it altogether, and the key is the awareness.”
Bonner has rented the main theater in Red River Theatres, where the film will be shown at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Bonner will stay after the film to moderate a question-and-answer session with filmmakers Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughn. Tickets for the event are $5.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @SPalermoNews.)
The Insiders: Don’t Northern Pass on this documentary at Red River
By BEN CONANT and KEITH TESTA
(Published in print: Wednesday, July 24, 2013)
Some people have made their stance on the proposed Northern Pass project known by planting lawn signs, others by wallpapering their car in bumper stickers. Some people probably think Northern Pass is a trick play in football. And others still have decided to register their displeasure by traveling through New England and Canada to film a documentary.
That documentary, Northern Trespass, created by new filmmakers from the White Mountains Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughn, will be shown tonight at 7 at Red River Theatres.
The title indicates that Marvel and Vaughn (which would make a sweet name for the next fluffy legal dramedy from TNT starring that guy who played Zach Morris) are not fans, but just how opposed are they? Since press material for the documentary says it “pulls the veil off and exposes the project for what it really is, an unnecessary and destructive profit-driven proposal that threatens the very essence of New Hampshire and its people,” we’re going to go with pretty opposed.
Best bonus ever: Concord native Matt Bonner, taking a summer vacation from raining 3s on the rest of the NBA, will be hosting the screening. Frankly, we’re shocked it took us this long to make note of that.
To view a trailer or to purchase tickets, which are $5, go to redrivertheatres.org/now-showing/special-events.
Before heading out to view anything, you should eat your vegetables. This public service announcement has been brought to you by your mother. But the vegetables can be brought to you by local vendors at the Concord Farmers Market, which continues its weekly Wednesday appearances throughout the summer at the Steeplegate Mall from 3 to 7 p.m. And there’s plenty more there than vegetables – visit concordfarmersmarket.com to get a better idea.
(Email the Insiders at: email@example.com.)
‘Northern Trespass’ talk at film hosted by NBA player Matt Bonner
John and Cindy-Lou Amey, from Pittsburg, left, were in the movie, in a full theatre while a Q&A session goes on, during the screening for Northern Trespass, at the Red River Theatre, in Concord, on Wednesday. Thomas Roy/Union Leader
New Hampshire Union Leader
“It really raises issues that people don’t really talk about, like the health issues and the promise of jobs,” he said.
Martin Murray, Northern Pass project spokesman, called the information in the video “inaccurate and outdated. It is heavily focused on the false threat of eminent domain, which has been addressed by state law for over a year now,” Murray said in a statement. “The current proposed route was created by working with willing landowners. The producers surely are aware of the facts surrounding this issue, yet chose to mislead the public.” He added: “New Hampshire is ready to debate this project on its merits, through honest debate. Unfortunately, this video only serves to distort the truth and mislead the public.”
‘Northern Trespass’ film to be screened in Nashua on Thursday night
Although a producer says the documentary is educational and enticing positive feedback, a PSNH spokesperson urges viewer scrutiny.
By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent (Published in print September 3, 2014)
NASHUA — Producers of the film “Northern Trespass” are hoping for a full house at Thursday night’s screening of the documentary at Chunky’s Cinema.
This will be the 11th screening of the film, which claims the Northern Pass Transmission Project is unnecessary, destructive and profit-driven.
To date, an estimated 1,000 people have viewed the film during public screenings, according to one of its producers, Michelle Vaughn. The first screening took place last summer.
The goal of the documentary is to educate people about Northern Pass and ultimately stop the project, Vaughn said on Wednesday. While the documentary focuses on the negative aspects of the project, Vaughn said it is educational, and continues to entice people to talk about the project and how it may impact the Granite State.
“This film highlights the concerns from New Hampshire residents, and shows alternatives that are not as harmful,” she said. “We have had such wonderful, positive feedback at every single screening.”
Thursday’s event will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Chunky’s Cinema and Pub in Nashua. Matt Bonner of Concord, a professional basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs, will host the film screening.
Following the film, Bonner will join Vaughn and her co-producer, Jan Marvel, for a discussion about Northern Pass. Jack Savage of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests will also be in attendance.
“Northern Trespass” takes viewers on a journey from Quebec, Vermont, New London, Conn., and many towns through New Hampshire. It documents the effect Northern Pass will have on the tourism industry, health, the environment, the White Mountain National Forest, property values and New Hampshire’s scenic beauty, according to a release from the filmmakers.
“We need to keep New Hampshire as it is, and not tied into a greedy project that is unnecessary,” added Vaughn.
Northern Pass has become a controversial project, with opponents claiming it will ruin the state’s scenic landscapes and harm the environment. Supporters, however, maintain it will provide reliable, renewable and low cost hydro-power to the region.
According to the Northern Pass website, nearly 80 percent of the route will be built along existing corridors where one or more power lines have existed for years. In addition, the route will use an existing right-of-way in the White Mountain National Forest, says the site. The film was produced prior to the current Northern Pass route being announced.
“I’m sure that viewers will recognize that this is not a true documentary, but a one-sided perspective by opponents of our proposed project,” said Public Service fo New Hampshire spokeswoman Lauren Collins on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, it is based on a number of inaccuracies and false claims.” Collins said that most people understand the serious energy crisis facing New Hampshire and New England.
“We need solutions, and the Northern Pass project offers one. Every claim we make about the Northern Pass’ benefits and potential impacts is held accountable by the public and the permitting process,” she said, encouraging viewers to get the facts about the project.
Tonight’s film screening is free, however there is a suggested donation of $5 to help support its producers and their efforts.