Is it just me or does it seem like there’s an ever-growing list of topics you can’t discuss without people withdrawing from one another into opposing camps? Differences are good, but like a bottle of salad dressing, it’s better when you shake things up.
That was the plan when we set out to cover the debate on the Northern Pass, our cover story for this issue. But the camps in this contentious subject are anything but clear, with arguments on everything from financial impact to environmental value causing internal rifts and making some strange political bedfellows. I remember naïvely thinking of it as a North Country story until a Northern Pass “scoping session” took place in my home city of Concord. So it was not without trepidation we set forth, and we enlisted a trusted and well-informed voice on the NH energy beat, NH Public Radio’s Sam Evans-Brown, to author this month’s feature, “Dividing Lines.”
In an effort to cut the Gordian knot of conjecture about the proposal (which has been examined from just about every imaginable angle), we asked him to pose two questions about the $1.4 billion project: “Is it inevitable?” and, if the plan comes to fruition as it’s currently proposed, “Would we ever get used to it?”
I remember an event that was a kind of microcosm of the Northern Pass back in 2001 when the state Supreme Court was hearing arguments about a plan to attach a cell tower atop Mt. Kearsarge. The Department of Resources and Economic Development was for it. The NH State Police said it was necessary for public safety. Neighboring residents from all sides of the mountain hated the very thought of it. They declared it would be a blemish upon the crown of the region that would bring pain every time they looked upon their beloved summit.
Inevitable or not, the cell tower was built. Abutters may have never fully gotten used to it, but there isn’t much outcry anymore.
US (and NH) Poet Laureate Donald Hall has gazed at Mt. Kearsarge countless times from the porch of his farm in Wilmot. In his reminiscence “Christmas at Eagle Pond” he recalls gazing at the “light blinking on its watchtower” — a reference to the Mt. Kearsarge fire lookout — and his short verse “Mt. Kearsage” was invoked by opponents to the cell tower. The poem ends: “I will not rock on this porch when I am old, I turn my back on you, Kearsarge, I close my eyes, and you rise inside me, blue ghost.”
Perhaps the inevitability of progress will bring new scars to the scenic continuity of New Hampshire. Perhaps a generation from now the Northern Pass will only be discussed in NH history classes. But like the blue ghost of Mt. Kearsarge, the green spirit of our natural world will never be banished or forgotten.