Northern Pass real estate expert concedes power lines thin the market
CONCORD — Key segments of the real estate market are not addressed in a property value study done for the Northern Pass Transmission project, several people claimed Wednesday in adjudicative hearings before the Site Evaluation Committee.
The study that was done by Dr. James Chalmers of Chalmers & Associates of Billings, Montana, concluded that once built, the high-voltage transmission line would slightly diminish the value of properties split by or abutting the project with little or no impact on properties more than 100 feet from the right-of-way.
Chalmers said his study focused on detached, single-family residences along the new transmission line stretching from Pittsburg to Deerfield.
Committee member William Oldenburg of the Department of Transportation told Chalmers “there are segments of properties not reviewed at all for property values” mentioning industrial and commercial property and those affiliated with tourism like campgrounds, hotels and restaurants.
Others were concerned about property values along the 52 miles of buried line from Bethlehem to Bridgewater, as well as projects and development that may not have gone forward due to the transmission project.
Amy Manzelli, an attorney representing the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, asked Chalmers if it was possible that some developments did not happen because of the Northern Pass project. He replied it was possible but he was not aware of any specific examples.
“You did no analysis regrading this possibility,” Manzelli asked. Chalmers responded: “That is right.”
She and others questioned why no work was done to determine if tourism facilities along the proposed corridor would lose value.
Chalmers said he relied on the tourism report done by Mitch Nichols of Nichols Tourism Group of Bellingham, Wash. that concluded the 192-mile transmission project would have no measurable impact on the state’s tourism industry.
If Nichols had found there would be impacts, Chalmers said, that might have caused him to investigate potential property value issues in that segment, but he did not.
“So no one else in this case has analyzed the impact on real estate value to tourism attractions on this route,” Manzelli asked, and Chalmers said, “No.”
Oldenburg noted Chalmers’s report states there are only two property value studies of commercial and industrial property next to high-voltage transmission lines, one done in 1985 in California and another on Wisconsin property.
“It’s just not an issue that comes up,” Chalmers said, “unless an easement constrains development.” That could impact income and that would affect property value, he said.
Intervenor Susan Schibanoff of Easton noted there are 1,000 parcels of land abutting the buried 52-mile section and asked Chalmers if he in “any way addressed the impact on real estate values along the buried portion.”
Chalmers said there is no visibility impact along the section of buried line. He maintains the drivers impacting property values along transmission lines are whether the right-of-way splits or abuts the property and whether the towers and lines are visible.
Schibanoff read information from Eversource and National Grid to landowners along a buried section of line last year in Massachusetts that says studies indicate there would be no measurable impact on property values.
“Why were these studies not done on the buried section of Northern Pass,” she asked.
Schibanoff noted of the 170 people who petitioned to intervene in the proceedings, 153 listed their main concern as property value as did 20 towns.
“If as you say there is no measurable effect (on property values),” she said “are two-thirds of the petitioners and 20 towns all wrong?”
Chalmers said property values are an obvious and understandable concern, but noted it is a “tricky issue.”
While individual property owners may be very unhappy with any change in their environment, he said, the question is whether the market responds to the change.
Schibanoff read a listing for a property in Stark that emphasized it was not near the Northern Pass project or within view.
She suggested his study may not have captured people in the real estate market who are just not willing to even look at property near Northern Pass or in a community like Stark because of the project.
Chalmers said there is no way to know or measure that adding almost any development may increase or decrease the flow of potential buyers.
“There could be a small change of interest in the Stark property that results in a reduction in the potential pool of buyers,” he said. “All we can measure is market price.”
Schibanoff asked if there could be “a thinning of the market” due to Northern Pass and Chalmers said “there is good evidence that power lines thin the market.”
Hearings on the $1.6 billion, 1,090 megawatt transmission project to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to New England continue Thursday before a break until the end of the month.
The developers hope to complete permitting this year with the line operating by the end of 2020. The Site Evaluation Committee must decide by Sept. 30 whether to approve Northern Pass’ application.