Will Ride The Wilds Accept Northern Pass Land, Money?

July 10, 2015

Colebrook Chronicle
 

Last week, an email from Harry Brown, President of the Ride the Wilds initiative, was leaked to the media. The email revealed that Brown had been in negotiations with the controversial proposed Northern Pass transmission line project; in the email, Brown discussed the proposal: “Up front $250,000 to $500,000 and a gift of land of a little over 1,100 acres in the Diamond Pond area valued in excess of $1,500,000 with nine residential structures in various sizes.

Once the Northern Pass project is approved, then they will grant us an easement for a trail from Hall Streams Road in Pittsburg to the Dixville town line on Sugar Hill. In addition, they will grant us $500,000 a year over the next 10 years or an addition FIVE MILLION DOLLARS!” Brown goes on to detail in his email that the proposal, once it is firmed up, will be offered to the Ride the Wilds board of directors, followed a short time later by a vote on the proposal.

Brown says in his email that while Northern Pass representatives will be on hand for the discussions, the public will not. “I am afraid that we will not have the pleasure of having an extended amount of time to vent this and that the appointed representatives will have to represent their constituents. This is going to be a onetime shot–like it or leave on the table,” wrote Brown.

Since the release of this private information, Ride the Wilds released a press release to the public with Brown confirming that the information in the leaked email was indeed accurate. According to the press release, Brown maintains that “it is premature to release anything because the Coalition lacks a firm offer from Eversource. (The Coalition Brown refers to is the OHRV Coalition, which consists of board members from area OHRV clubs.

Brown serves as the president.) Brown nonetheless acknowledged that the information from the internal memo is an accurate depiction of discussions to date. If and when, according to Brown, the Coalition is offered something concrete to discuss, the following process will most likely occur: The offer will then be “vented with the entire Coalition Board of Directors, then that meeting will likely be recessed, allowing for the entire Coalition to get individual club positions; followed by the reconvening of the recessed Coalition meeting and a vote–for or against the proposed MOU (memoranda of understanding).

If Eversource makes an offer as previously described, it certainly could be an incredible boost for Ride the Wilds, a 1,000-plus miles of OHRV trails in Coos County,” asserted Brown. As outlined, it would initially provide a cash infusion along with a donation of a little over 1,100 acres of land in the Diamond Pond area of Stewartstown and Colebrook valued in excess of $1,500,000, with nine residential structures of various sizes. He continued, “The Coalition would then have several options: build another riding park in northwestern Coos County; lease or rent the structures or sell them to raise money, and use the cash along with RTP and GIA grants to build out the park.”

Also, the agreement would be contingent on the Northern Pass Transmission Line getting built. It would include a right of way from Halls Stream Road in Pittsburg to the vicinity of Heath Road and Bear Rock Road in Stewartstown for a new trail to be constructed and $5,000,000 paid out over 10 years. “The securing of this significant right of way could kick off a program to secure right of ways throughout the system, thus securing passages for Ride the Wilds in perpetuity.”

Brown’s recommendation to his Board of Directors–if the outlined offer moves forward– would be that “the $5,000,000 should be invested and the earnings from the principal be used for operations,” adding, currently “the OHRV clubs have to rely on federal and state grants which remain as secure as a frayed shoestring along with their own fundraising efforts. These earnings would give the Coalition endless opportunities including a significant staff which could include two or three construction crews to enhance all 11 of the Coalition Clubs’ trail construction and maintenance initiatives. If offered and approved, it would ensure the future regardless of other funding sources.”

The Chronicle contacted Eversource spokesman Martin Murray. Eversource (formerly PSNH) is the New Hampshire public utility that is looking to build the line on behalf of HydroQuebec and Northeast Utilities. Murray said, “The project has a history of reaching out to various local stakeholders to insure that the project can deliver unique benefits for New Hampshire, such as economic development and job growth.

Our partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with the Job Creation Fund in the North Country, and the recent cell initiative with the Coos Economic Development Corporation are prime examples of our commitment to the state. We’re not ready to discuss the specifics of any new potential partnerships at this time, as our focus is on the impending release of DOE's draft EIS, the public meetings that will follow, and eventually our application with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.” He concluded, “We look forward to the continuance of the public process and the discussions that will follow.”

A major opposition to the Northern Pass Transmission Line proposal has been the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire’s Forests, which owns easements on thousands of acres of land in the state, particularly in the North Country, which would be impacted by the building of a transmission line. Jack Savage, a spokesman for the Forest Society, told the Chronicle, “The ongoing effort by Northern Pass to throw money at various stakeholders is a clear indication that the transmission proposal itself offers little or no benefits to New Hampshire.”

Another opponent has been attorney Bob Baker, who has a home in Columbia. Baker sent the Chronicle an email with his reaction to the negotiations that have been revealed between Ride the Wilds and the Northern Pass project—he touches on the concerns of private landowners who have given permission for the trails through their properties. “The folks who live in the North Country have been fighting for years to preserve our landscapes and heritage from the devastation that the Northern Passwould bring to Coos County and to the rest of the State.

The 2,300 new transmission towers that Northern Pass would plant on our mountains, forests, fields, towns and critical areas of outdoor recreation would be an obscenity that would curse our children and grandchildren for years to come. Our visitors would be disappointed. Our tourists would look for other, more scenic options.

We would hope that the OHRV clubs will turn down an obvious bribe that Northern Pass wants to hold out as bait. Northern Pass wants them to take the bait in order to say it is in ‘partnership’ with the ATV clubs and imply that it has bought peace with the North Country. That would be another misrepresentation, but it will be told enough times that important allies in Concord and elsewhere in the state might start to believe it.

We would hope that the OHRV clubs would see through this and turn down the money and property that Northern Pass is reportedly willing to dump in the laps of their organizers. Most of the money would not come, of course, unless the project gets built. The OHRV club organizers realize that. We would also hope that the OHRV clubs realize that Northern Pass cannot give them a trail from Halls Stream Road to Dixville.

That would take the cooperation and consent of intervening landowners who have sworn never to succumb or sell out to the Northern Pass wallet as well as permission from three towns that have overwhelmingly voted to oppose the project. Baker added, “The ATV clubs are wholly dependent on the good will of landowners and towns who allow them to use their property for trails and roads. Long, hard thought should be given before any OHRV club or coalition agrees to be a willing participant in the destruction of our landscapes and scenic values.

Our landowners, tourists and visitors that come to enjoy all forms of recreation in our scenic mountains, forests, lakes and towns deserve more. They are worth supporting. The Northern Pass is not here to give–it only wants to take our heritage. How should we choose? I would think the answer is obvious.” For his part, Harry Brown is hoping that the discussion goes forward. He concluded in his email: “I hope that we can count on you being open to moving ahead in the direction I have described. Otherwise, I not sure it will ever get to the table or a discussion!”

Once Brown’s press release was shared on the Ride the Wilds Facebook page, reaction from OHRV riders was quick. “You are pathetic cowards if you take this blood money–with all the No to Northern Pass I see your brothers and sisters posting up along the highway and along the snowmobile trails. To even consider this shows a lack of integrity in this group,” said one writer. “I can't believe there is any consideration to selling out to this awful project and company. Sell your soul for a price! Grass roots got this program going and corporate America is not needed to keep it going,” wrote another.

“Pretty surprised at this. Mr Brown once accused me of being a NIMBY, and I'm sure this one qualifies for that, too....But REALLY, Harry? Hopefully the individual clubs are smart enough to decline this offer!” said another rider. Another said, “I've heard a couple of landowners state that if Ride The Wilds accepts the Northern Pass ‘gift’ they will shut down their trails, not only to ATVs, but also to snowmobiles.”

The controversy of the negotiations is similar to the backlash the SnoDeo organizers felt when they agreed to take a significant sum of money from the Northern Pass project to be a sponsor of the annual snowmobile event. The SnoDeo had some losses over the last few years after they accepted a significant amount of funds from Northern Pass, but the numbers attending the show are working back up again. The press release issued by Brown goes on to state that the Coalition had not been asked to endorse the Northern Pass project.

“Ride the Wilds has created a very strong economic engine for Coos County and if Northern Pass moves forward with an offer, then if the Coalition accepts the offer, this would be a game changer for Ride the Wilds and the many businesses and jobs supported by this growing industry,” said Brown.

 

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