Eversource is widening its clearing for transmission lines. An explanation is needed.

By Polly Ryan

Guest posts reflect the views of the author only.

A project Eversource will be conducting sometime this year in Plainfield and many other communities in Massachusetts raises grave concerns. They’re calling it the “Reliability Project” and it involves cutting a lot of trees in the transmission power line rights-of-way across all of Massachusetts. Eversource is claiming this project is necessary because the trees pose a threat to the lines if they fall. 

Eversource officials say they have sent all landowners with power-line easements a letter describing the project. I received one—but it made me want to know more, a lot more.

The project involves widening the transmission right of way by an average of 25’ on both sides of the current clearing. Eversource will be cutting all trees that are standing in these areas. Since the transmission lines run through Plainfield for five miles, this translates to 30 acres of trees that will be cut, most of them white pine. On average, 200 mature (100+ years) white pines can occupy an acre of land, so we’re talking approximately 6,000 pine trees in our community alone. 

What are my concerns?

The impact this will have on climate change. These trees sequester (hold) carbon and, depending on how they are repurposed, may significantly impact the balance of CO2 in our atmosphere. In addition, research has shown that older trees exponentially sequester more carbon that younger growth. (See Statement from Scientists.)

2. I was a directly impacted landowner on the proposed NED pipeline project that was planned to go through our community a couple of years ago and the clearing is happening exactly where the pipeline was to be sited. 

3. Landowners have no choice but to accept this plan, Eversource representatives managing the project told me. I asked if they would consider leaving my stand alone since its only 50’ wide and cutting 1⁄2 of them down would weaken the remaining stand. They said this was not an option. I then asked if they would at least leave the healthy trees standing and they said no to this, too. I tried to point out to them that the trees they plan to cut on my land wouldn’t even hit the lines if they fell. I was still told I had no choice or rights as a landowner in stopping the project from going forward.

4. There is a monetary value to this crop of trees and the sub-contractor hired by Eversource stands to profit from it while landowners receive no compensation. 

I did some research and found that the stumpage value of white pine in Southern NH is $80-170 per MBF (1000 board feet) of timber. Each mature pine (DBH 20” and 80’ tall) is about 1000 board feet so let’s low ball its average value at $100/pine. 6000 pines times $100 is $600,000 worth of pine in Plainfield alone. 

The Eversource representative did say that I could keep the logs and in that case the subcontractors would pile them neatly on my property. Then, at my expense, I could get the timber trucked to a local mill yard. This may be a profitable solution if all impacted property owners in town shared the expense of having our stands trucked to a mill yard, but I doubt any of us will profit much if we individually hire truckers to transport our logs. 

5. In order to get the project done sooner and with less effort or notice, Eversource has decided to avoid cutting in areas that require special Federal and State permits. So they won’t (or rather are not allowed) to cut trees along river fronts, in rare and endangered species habitats or, on Article 97 land. They are required to contact all municipal Conservation Commissions though. In Plainfield, our Conservation Commission asked Eversource to submit a “Notice of Intent” to proceed with cutting in wetlands and Eversource responded by saying that this would never happen. 

Therefore, they are not allowed to cut any trees within a 100’ buffer zone of any wetlands in town. This saves roughly 5 acres of trees in Plainfield. However, reports have been made in other towns, where cutting has already happened, that the contractors have ignored these requirements and the only consequence has been that Eversource has to pay a fine. 

6. Standard forestry equipment will be used to fell the trees like feller bunchers, forwarders, skidders and chippers. This is very impactful to soils and makes a huge mess of the landscape. Eversource did assure me they would spread wood chips where cutting occurs if I requested it. I bought my property in Plainfield because of the 2’ of “black gold” (topsoil) on it, hoping to farm it in my retirement. You can’t farm compacted soils covered with wood chips! 

7. There may be a larger picture and more at stake here than just a “Reliability Project.” I had two meetings with Thomas Degnan, the Project Manager. At the first one, I asked about other projects happening in our neighborhood and he said he only knew the details related to this project. So I requested another meeting with an Eversource representative that would know about these other projects. There was a second meeting but there wasn’t an Eversource representative present with any knowledge of any other projects. Rose Wessell from “No Fracked Gas in Mass” attended both meetings and she was concerned about other possible motivations for widening the right of way because another utility in New York has also been widening this same transmission path and their plan was to run an additional transmission line. 

Thomas Degnan said he had submitted final maps and the procurement package to Eversource this past December. He said it will take anywhere from two to eight months for Eversource to get through the procurement process and negotiate bid contracts with logging companies. Once a logging contractor has been hired, a schedule for cutting will be implemented. Eversource hopes to start logging in 2019. Burns and McDonnell are the subcontractors.

I suggest that abutting landowners contact Degnan if they have any concerns about how this project will impact their property. His office number is, 203.949.2408, and his mobile is 860.209.2863. Perhaps if a number of residents have similar concerns we could arrange a gathering to discuss them. 

Polly Ryan can be reached at 413-634.5734