Fredon board OKs PSE&G agreement

By TOM HOWELL JR.

thowell@njherald.com

FREDON -- The Fredon Board of Education approved a settlement with PSE&G Monday night that would rearrange property at the Fredon School to address health concerns about power lines that soar above the school's playground and fields.

The settlement calls for PSE&G to pay up to $950,000 to move the fields to the front of the school along state Route 94 as soon as possible, school board and PSE&G officials said.

The fields will replace the current parking lot, which will be swapped into space closer to the power lines and currently occupied by the fields.

PSE&G also agreed to move a new proposed power line -- if the company's project is approved by the Board of Public Utilities as early as January -- hundreds of feet farther from the school, officials said.

Details of the agreement arrived almost a week after the Board of Education announced it would close the school Oct. 1, due to concerns it had about higher than average electromagnetic field readings emanating from the existing power lines.

School officials ensured a standing-room only crowd at the Fredon Civic Center the new school layout will protect students from power line construction and diminish the affects of electromagnetic fields from the lines.

The project will be paid for by the power company, Fredon School Superintendent Sal Constantino said.

Concerned residents asked the board about the negotiations' effect on property values and how the settlement was reached, but discourse funneled into one major question -- will the children be safe?

"Take a deep breath, think, and give me an answer," a man in the back of the room said.

"Yes," board President John Flora replied.

Flora noted that proposed new lines, although higher in voltage, will be farther away and built in a way that diminishes students' exposure to electromagnetic fields.

PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson said the company must acquire some property to move the proposed line farther from the school, but the land owner is working with the company.

"We don't see that as a major problem," she said.

Tom Hill, a trustee with citizen organization Stop the Lines, said the proposed project itself is a major problem for Fredon residents' health and property values.

The organization set up an information table Monday as parents streamed into the civic center.

"We're here to garner support (for our cause)," Hill said. "A lot of people became aware of the issue when the school was possibly closing."

PSE&G is proposing to build the New Jersey portion of the power line, which follows an existing transmission right-of-way from the Delaware River, in Hardwick, then crosses the Sussex County towns of Stillwater, Fredon, Newton, Andover, Byram and Sparta.

The $750 million project will end in Roseland, Essex County, and is part of a regional effort to upgrade electric transmission systems to meet what the utility believes will be an increased demand for power in the Northeast.

The power line saga has been a source of controversy for months, but the school's involvement led parents like Danielle McElroy to attend numerous public meetings on the topic.

McElroy, a single mom, said she moved to Fredon from Pequannock four years ago so her son, now in second grade, would have a nice yard and pleasant upbringing.

"Now I'm bombarded with this," she said before the meeting Monday.

Some residents suggested their children were used as bargaining chips, with major media present, to force PSE&G into a settlement. They also were dissatisfied with how the plans were communicated to parents and confused about why the proposed closure was even considered.

The board nearly reached a settlement with PSE&G before the school year, but negotiations broke down Aug. 26, according to the board.

"We did exactly what we needed to do to get a long-term resolution," Flora said. "You may not have liked how we got to where we did, but the resolution is acceptable and allows us to move forward for a very, very long time."