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Balloons illustrate power lines height
 
Photo by Amy Paterson/New Jersey Herald
Sally Gibson, a volunteer for Stop the Lines, talks to Newton resident Angela Logan about PSE&G’s proposed power line expansion through the area. In the sky, two balloons float above Newton-Sparta Road to illustrate the existing height of the lines, 100 feet, and the height of the proposed lines at almost 200 feet.
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By SETH AUGENSTEIN

saugenstein@njherald.com

ANDOVER TOWNSHIP -- Floating in the autumn sky, two red balloons hung high over the Bagel Bistro on Newton-Sparta Road.

The lower balloon marked the existing height -- 100 feet -- of the transmission power lines that criss-cross the county and Andover, from west to east. The second, more distant one at nearly 200 feet, showed what could happen if the 500-kilovolt expansion to the Susquehanna-Roseland line is built.

Stop the Lines, the opposition group, put the balloons there as a visual wake-up call to those who may not know what could be coming if the state Board of Public Utilities approves the plan.

"The whole point of this is to just raise awareness," said Andover Mayor Bob Smith, whose town is part of a seven-town coalition actively fighting the lines. "We don't want people to be surprised."

Some people were nonetheless surprised by the height of the second balloon. John Bradford, who watched a swath of forest underneath the existing lines clear cut last year, even before the line route was announced, squinted upward.

"This is amazing -- it's double the height," Bradford said.

Sally Gibson, a member of Stillwater's environmental commission, called the event an "information day" for Stop the Lines.

"We've had some good conversations today," Gibson said. "I think the balloons are bringing them in."

PSE&G says the project, which includes adding the lines for 46 miles from to the Delaware River in Knowlton to the utility's switching station in Roseland, is needed to prevent blackouts, brownouts and other lapses in the region's power grid resulting from the reliance on the current 1920s-era towers and 230-kilovolt lines.

PSE&G's proposal would add 500-kilovolt lines along the existing right-of-way to the existing ones -- some 80 feet taller than the existing wires -- to eliminate any potential power shortage problems.

Rich Barton, an Andover contractor, glanced up at the red balloons. He said he realizes the lines might be necessary, but suspects there could be a better method to construct them.

"It's a Catch-22, whichever way you want to go," he said.

Smith said 98 people in the township alone are directly affected by the Susquehanna-Roseland plan, to whom the township sent an individual letter warning them of the possible changes to the landscape. Between chats with visitors, Gibson summarized a popular conception of power lines.

"They're big and ugly . . . and not needed," she said.

The state Board of Public Utilities vote is expected in January, with evidentiary hearings beginning next month.

Created: 10/10/2009 | Updated: 10/10/2009

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