Public Service Electric and Gas Co.'s plans for a 45-mile power line through New Jersey would damage the sensitive Highlands region through which it would cut, several environmentalists and local officials said Tuesday.
PSE&G's 500-kilovolt electric power line, which would run through the heart of the protected region, is the largest development to come before state officials since the enactment of the 2004 Highlands law. Since most of the 15 New Jersey municipalities through which the line would pass are in the region, the company needs to get a state exemption from the strict rules governing development there.
During a press conference at Split Rock Reservoir in Rockaway Township, environmentalists and others urged state officials to carefully review the requested exemption. They said PSE&G's plan for a string of towers that could stretch as high as 200 feet bringing power from Pennsylvania to Roseland does not meet the criteria for an exemption from the four-year-old law and would impact the region.
The law allows for "routine maintenance and operations, rehabilitation, preservation, reconstruction, repair, or upgrade of public utility lines ...provided that the activity is consistent with the goals and purposes of the Highlands Act."
"This is far from routine maintenance," said Jeff Tittel, head of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. "This does not further the goals of the Highlands Act. It destroys scenic resources."
Karen Johnson, a PSE&G spokeswoman, disagreed.
"PJM (the regional transmission organization) has determined the need for this reliability project, and we intend to make great efforts to minimize any impact on the environment as we construct this line," she said. "We believe our Highlands Applicability Determination application meets the statutory test and look forward to the decision of the NJDEP."
The state Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to determine whether a project is exempt from the Highlands law and, if not, can issue a special Highlands approval, said Karen Hershey, a DEP spokeswoman. She doesn't know when the department will make a determination.
"It's a big project; it's going to take some time," Hershey said.
Eileen Swan, executive director of the New Jersey Highlands Council that has drafted a master plan for the 860,000-acre region, said that body will weigh in on the project and how it relates to the plan.
The Susquehanna-Roseland line would be built along an existing transmission route that also would pass through Byram and Sparta in Sussex County and through seven municipalities in Morris County; Jefferson, Rockaway Township, Kinnelon, Boonton Township, Montville, Parsippany and East Hanover.
The proposed towers would dwarf the current 80-foot towers, rising above the tree canopy and impacting scenic values, the environmentalists contend.
PSE&G says the higher towers are designed to minimize electric and magnetic fields, and the proposed route minimizes the amount of vegetation that would have to be cut and crosses the smallest amount of forests and wetlands.
The company says the $750 million line, scheduled for completion by 2012, is needed to avoid future power outages.
Colleen O'Dea can be reached at 973-428-6655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.