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State allows critics of PSE&G's power line proposal to intervene

Foes also win right to escrow account

By Colleen O'Dea • Daily Record • April 28, 2009

All 17 groups that sought to be part of the public hearing process on Public Service Electric & Gas Co.'s proposed transmission line project may do so, the state Board of Public Utilities decided on Monday.

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Meeting in Newark, the board also directed PSE&G to meet with the intervening parties -- several municipalities, environmental organizations and citizens groups -- to negotiate an agreement on the establishment of an escrow account from which the groups could pay for expert witnesses.

"Super," is how Dave Slaperud of the 300-member Stop the Lines, one of six groups the utility had sought to bar from intervening in its application to add 500 kilovolt lines along a 46-mile transmission corridor from Pennsylvania through Morris County to Roseland, described the BPU's decision.

"We would have been really surprised if we had been denied intervener status," said Slaperud. "There are so many of us living along the line who are affected and not all the municipalities are getting involved in the process."

Among the governmental bodies that are involved are those from East Hanover, Montville, Parsippany and Byram townships and the Montville Board of Education. Interveners are allowed to request discovery documents, cross examine witnesses and present their own expert testimony.

Because this could be a costly process, several of the groups asked that PSE&G be forced to establish an escrow account of some $200,000 to pay for legal fees and expert testimony.

The utility, which estimates the cost of the line project at $750 million, opposed this, saying it would be unfair to burden ratepayers with this expense.

The BPU told the company to try to hammer out an agreement over the escrow issue by its next meeting on May 14, said Doyal Siddell, a board spokesman.

PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson said the company wants to further discuss the issue with the BPU.

"We want to ensure that we proceed in a manner that protects the interests of our ratepayers," she said.

"In allowing all interested parties to intervene, the board is expecting the process to proceed without delay," Johnson added. "We're eager to begin the next steps so that a decision in this important reliability project can be reached according to the schedule."

The BPU schedule indicates the board plans to issue a decision on the project in December. Commissioner Joseph Fiordaliso was named hearing officer for the matter.

The route of the proposed upgrade crosses from Pennsylvania and proceeds through Warren and Sussex Counties. More than half the line would traverse Morris County, through Jefferson, Rockaway Township, Kinnelon, Boonton Township, Montville, Parsippany and East Hanover before ending in Roseland.

Colleen O'Dea can be reached at 973-428-6655 or codea@gannett.com.

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