January 12, 2010
PSE&G offering money to towns along proposed power line route
By MEGHAN VAN DYK
Towns along the
proposed Susquehanna-Roseland power line upgrade project have until the
end of the day to decide whether to accept money offered by Public
Service Electric and Gas Co. in the waning days before a decision by
the state Board of Public Utilities is expected.
last week made settlement offers to the 16 municipalities through which
the 500-kilovolt lines — on towers as tall as 195 feet — would cross.
The contact offered to one municipality indicates the money is meant to
cover costs associated with construction, but some opponents feel it is
a political payoff.
"It's an attempt for PSE&G to try and
make it appear as if municipalities are okay with the project, they
just have to buy them off to do that," said Julia Somers, executive
director at the NJ Highland Coalition.
Karen Johnson, a
PSE&G spokeswoman, did not specify the total of the settlements,
but said each municipality received an offer based on a formula it
developed tied to reimbursements for emergency preparedness and safety,
the planting of vegetation and construction impacts.
"We are in
confidential settlement discussions with the towns along the route,"
Johnson said. "We recognize that there would be impacts on these towns
during the construction of the project and developed a formula to take
that into account."
The Jefferson council last Tuesday received
an offer of $398,000 and has scheduled a special meeting tonight at 6
p.m. to vote on a resolution to accept the funds, which are contingent
on the project's approval. Of that amount, $200,000 would be paid to
the township to mitigate the potential impact to residents along the
right of way, $48,480 for the planting of trees or brush and $150,000
for electrical fire safety equipment and training for rescue squads,
according to a copy of the agreement provided by officials.
Kinnelon and Boonton Township received offers Friday, for $154,641 and
about $60,000, respectively, officials said. Neither municipality has
placed the matter on upcoming agendas to be reviewed by governing
Rockaway Township administrator Greg Poff confirmed
PSE&G made an offer, but declined to specify the amount, citing
attorney-client privilege, while officials in Montville, Parsippany and
East Hanover did not return calls from the Daily Record. The three
latter municipalities — in addition to Sussex County towns Andover,
Byram, Fredon and Hardwick — are registered interveners in the process
before the BPU.
The contract received by Jefferson stipulates
that the settlement agreement waives all rights to oppose the project
in court or any other forum and is not "intended to address or resolve
any claims that the municipality or its residents may have against
PSE&G with respect to damage to their real or personal property
caused by construction of the project."
Scott Olson, a
councilman in Byram Township, said the council there received
PSE&G's settlement contract just before its public meeting last
Monday. The matter was discussed in closed session, but no decision was
reached, he said.
"It would be irresponsible for us to not
consider this," Olson said. "But, personally, I don't think there is
anything they (PSE&G) can do to change my mind. I think the project
Dave Slaperud, trustee of Stop the Lines, said the settlement offers "seem like a desperation move" by PSE&G.
"The items mentioned in the proposed agreement are all things that
PSE&G should be willing to do, if the project somehow gets
approved," Slaperud said. "It doesn't make sense they would be trying
to settle with towns that are not part of the lawsuit process."
The deal to approve PSE&G's settlement contract is not yet a done deal in Jefferson, said Rick Yochum, council president.
"I'm opposed to accepting the funds on a matter of principal," Yochum
said. "Seven days to make such an important decision is unheard of in
municipal government. It may be a tough budget year, but my hope is the
entire project is withdrawn."
It is unclear when the BPU will
rule on the $750 million project that would traverse 47 miles in New
Jersey. It has asked PSE&G and the municipalities and environmental
groups that oppose the plan to submit comment about PATH Allegheny
Virginia Transmission Corp's decision to withdraw its application for a
major mid-Atlantic power line after a study there showed a declining
demand for energy.
It will determine after Friday whether that decision will be considered alongside the Susquehanna-Roseland proposal.
Meghan Van Dyk: 973-428-6633; firstname.lastname@example.org