Battle Lines | The Northern Pass Energy Project
Too, he simply doesn’t buy the argument that the new electical transmission lines, with their accompanying 80- to 135-foot towers, spaced every 800 feet, will be a blight on the landscape and a deterrent to visitors. “I don’t know of any structure that has stopped people from going to the White Mountains,” he added.
In short, Gary Long argues that opponents of The Northern Pass simply aren’t seeing the big picture and don’t appreciate the noble efforts of PSNH and Hydro-Québec. He noted that when he started at PSNH, New England was relying on natural gas for less than 1 percent of its electricity. Now, it’s approaching 50 percent. And he sees parallels between the energy crisis of the 1970s and what’s happening now. “We did things, but I don’t think we did enough,” he observed, talking about the oil embargo and its aftermath. Long believes our nation is at another inflection point regarding energy: “I’ve seen many big changes, and I think we’re at another one.”
Finally, Long feels frustrated that he and the company he heads have been vilified: “We’re spending millions of dollars to do what we should do … I don’t want to say it’s fun, because it’s not–these issues are never fun. But if we can get this done, it will be very exciting for the state. And when it’s done, the issues will go away.”
The issues will go away. Long’s assertion brought to mind something John Amey had said when it was his turn to speak at the Ridge Runners meeting. “They still don’t get it: that there’s nothing you can pay to get someone to give up a way of life,” he told the small crowd. Amey spoke mildly, clipping his words in the manner common to the region. There was no bravado or rancor in his statement; he was simply laying out the facts as he saw them. The sky is blue, the sun is round, maple trees keep growing, there’s nothing you can pay to get someone to give up a way of life.
Later that evening, after the meeting, after dinner, and after we’d returned to the Ameys’ farm, John and I stood in the doorway of the dairy barn, looking across pastures halfway through their seasonal metamorphosis from brown to green. I asked Amey what he and Cindy-Lou would do if The Northern Pass won approval and if the route across their farm became the route of choice. He didn’t hesitate: “I’m not going anywhere. I don’t tell people I’ll leave, because I won’t.”
At first, I was surprised by Amey’s acquiescent reply. But the more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense, because the very reason that John Amey opposes The Northern Pass is the same reason he’ll stay right where he is if it goes through: He’s connected to his land, his community, and his family. His life is here. In a sense, and perhaps ironically, he had proven Gary Long’s point: that no structure can keep people from what really matters to them.
I left Pittsburg in the cool twilight of an early-spring evening, driving a sinuous ribbon of asphalt through a sparsely settled landscape. It would be many months and likely years before the fate of The Northern Pass would be known. But whether it would be approved or not, I was pretty sure of one thing: The issues it raises won’t go away, because the issues transcend any single project. They’re issues of property rights, power, and profit. They cut right to the core of our expectations and our future. And they’re inseparable from the people. The issues won’t go away, because the people won’t go away.
“I know my trees,” Amey had told me, as we’d sat in the Happy Corner Cafe, waiting for dinner. “They don’t have names, but they have personalities, and I know them.” He’d spread his sausage-like fingers apart in a gesture that was probably unconscious, but nonetheless seemed to me an attempt to show me something that he couldn’t quite explain. But he needn’t have worried; I understood just fine.
At press time in mid-September, changes to the northern end of the proposed route were under consideration in response to public reaction.