Most Wanted - Published 11/23/08
 
Environmental groups want a close look at construction plans
 

By BRUCE A. SCRUTON

bscruton@njherald.com

The amount of construction needed to build new electric transmission lines demands a close look at how that work will be done and not just a blanket exemption, a coalition of environmental groups said Tuesday.

And they want the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Highlands Council to bring out their magnifying glasses.

"This isn't an upgrade," said Jeff Tittel, of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "It's a brand new system they want to put in."

Public Service Electric & Gas has proposed building a 500,000-volt transmission line from the Pennsylvania border within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, to Roseland in Essex County. The route would follow an existing right-of-way that carries a 230 kilovolt transmission line.

The plan includes replacing the existing towers with a mixture of monopoles and lattice towers and putting both the 230- and 500-kilovolt lines on the same towers.

However, more than half the route would go through the Highlands, which the state Legislature said deserves strong conservation measures because it is the water source for more than half the state's residents.

In setting up the law that installed those strong protections, the Highlands Act does contain some exemptions. One of those allows for "the routine maintenance and operations, rehabilitation, preservation, reconstruction, repair or upgrade of public utility lines, rights of way, or systems, by a public utility, provided the activity is consistent with the goals and purposes of the Highlands Act."

PSE&G has applied for that exemption, which requires the state to determine if it is consistent with the goals and purposes. Without the exemption, the utility must appear before the Highlands Council.

In a written statement Tuesday
afternoon, company spokeswoman Karen Johnson said, "In enacting the Highlands Protection Act, the Legislature and governor clearly and explicitly recognized the need for public utilities to maintain and upgrade transmission delivery systems in the Highlands region. We intend to make great efforts to minimize any impact on the environment as we construct this line."

Scott Olson, a Byram councilman, said this will be the biggest construction project since the Highlands Act
was passed.

He said the 25-30 miles through the Highlands will
contain about 75 towers, each with its own special set of environmental problems, and each with its own access road to bring in the construction crews.

In some areas, those roads would pass through wetlands and recreational areas. Other areas contain rare and threatened plant and animal species and much of the route is through lands vital to recharge the groundwater supply.

Dave Slaperud, of Fredon, and a co-founder of Stop the Lines, said, "The idea of de-construction of existing towers and construction of nearly 200-foot monstrous towers through some of the most beautiful areas in New Jersey is an assault on our residents and the environment."

Earlier this month, PSE&G said it plans to file an application with the state Board of Public Utilities before the end of the year.

The board will then review the project and have hearings on how it fits in with the state's Energy Master Plan.

Created: 11/18/2008 | Updated: 11/18/2008

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