By SETH AUGENSTEINsaugenstein@njherald.com
— The local elementary school will close Oct. 1 because the school
board believes recent readings from existing power lines over the
property are a potential health risk.
The board voted
unanimously to close the school and move the 343 kids and 70 staff to
an as-yet undetermined location for the rest of the school year. Also,
the school has suspended outside recess until the move.
not putting my children or any other children back in that school until
the power lines are moved,” said Courtney Wisinski, the board’s vice
president. “We have to err on the side of caution.”
reason for the abrupt moving plans has been there for almost 80 years.
The 80-foot power towers and sloping lines that soar over the school
property, including a baseball field and play area, are now being
identified with potential health risks like childhood leukemia. School
officials said the electromagnetic field readings are at least six
times the recommended safe levels set by the World Health Organization.
maintains there is no danger in the building, and the levels are at
“background level” normally found around electronics.
believe that neither the existing line nor the proposed line present
health or safety concerns to the school children or residents of
Fredon,” said Karen Johnson, a PSE&G spokeswoman.
officials said the impending closing is anything but arbitrary. For
decades, the parents and staff never considered that the 230-kilovolt
power lines, built in 1931, were a danger. Since the 500-kilovolt
Susquehanna-Roseland project was proposed last year — drawing concerns
about higher, wider lines and increased electromagnetic field
possibilities — readings were taken for the existing lines for the
first time. What they showed shocked the Fredon Township School
officials. The levels averaged 19.34 milligauss, or mG; 3 mG is the
health organization’s recommended threshold.
“We can’t unlearn what we now know,” said Superintendent Sal Constantino.
“(It would be) like putting paste back in the tube,” said John Flora, the school board president.
school officials also said they originally voted in July to move
classes outside the school for the beginning of classes last week. They
and PSE&G negotiated a settlement through most of August that would
have changed the configuration of the school, switching the placement
of the play area and parking lot so the lot would be directly
underneath the lines. Another part of the settlement stipulated the new
power lines — at double the height and triple the power — would avoid
the school completely.
School officials said the negotiations
broke down the day before school opened. An amendment to the deal would
make all the safety guards, including the $950,000 transfer of the
playground and parking lot, contingent upon the approval of the new
line, which could come as early as December. Until then, Constantino
said the school is working with the county Board of Education to find a
replacement site for the students.
The issue has been ongoing in
Fredon since the project was proposed. An organization called Fredon
PALS — Parents Against the Lines — had been vociferously arguing
against the proposed Susquehanna-Roseland line, which will travel from
Essex County west into Pennsylvania and which officials said is need to
satisfy an ever-growing power demand in the region.
Parents, both PALS members and others, seem to be on board with the closing.
will be willing . . . to not send them to school to tell them we’re
serious,” said Michelle Mangino, mother of two students. “They just
think we’re citizens of a small town and they can push us around. They
can’t bully us around — without a fight.”
Tadd Wisinski, the
father of two kids at the school and two younger ones who helped found
PALS, concedes there are differing scientific viewpoints on the
potential effects of power lines, but it’s not a chance worth taking.
“It’s not definitive but why in the world would you take the risk?” he said.
contingency plan for Wisinski’s family would be to shelter them from
the lines, at all costs — even through private schooling, home
schooling, or “if we can’t get it resolved, we’ll probably move away,”