Ever since the controversy began over the construction of a new transmission line to bring power from Canada into New Hampshire slicing through some of that state’s most scenic landscape, the backers of the project have been quietly lobbying for eminent domain powers to force reluctant landowners along the proposed route to sell.
The issue gets its first real test tomorrow when the New Hampshire Senate takes up a measure that would amend the state eminent domain law to allow them to do just that.
Until just a few years ago, eminent domain was only regarded as a last resort by governments when it was necessary to buy land for needed public projects – highways, schools, etc.
In a case from New London, Connecticut, the Supreme Court under the Bush administration ruled that such a land-taking could be initiated for a private project, if some demonstrable public good resulted. At issue was an old neighborhood in the Fort Trumbull section of New London. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, had indicated had it wanted to build a facility in the New London area.
A local developer convinced the city government that the Fort Trumbull neighborhood would be a perfect site for Pfizer as well as other businesses that it would attract. The only problem was that the residents didn’t want to sell.
Using the argument that the project would give a much needed boost to the local economy, the Supreme Court ruled that the homes could be taken by eminent domain. As a result, the residents were bought out, forced to find homes elsewhere. The houses were torn down, the land was bulldozed, and then Pfizer announced it would build somewhere else. Only recently have a few new homes been built on the site.
The Northern Pass developers had initially argued that the project would bring much-needed electrical power to New Hampshire. It quickly was revealed that New Hampshire had plenty of electrical power, and most of the imported power would be sold on the grid.
They then changed their argument, saying it would mean up to 1,500 jobs in the Granite State, but a rival power group now says those figures are exaggerated, in reality less than half that number, and most of those would go to specialists who would likely have to be hired from outside New Hampshire.
As a spokesperson for the Northern Pass developers said, “You have to consider the source.”
That cuts both ways.