MONTVILLE -- Officials from three towns and several environmental groups on Tuesday claimed Public Service Electric & Gas is trying to circumvent local planning boards by seeking state approval for a power line that would cut a 45-mile swath through New Jersey.
The mayors of Montville and East Hanover, along with a Byram councilman and officials with various groups, held a press conference to call on the state Board of Public Utilities to force PSE&G to get its approvals from local governments.
"We have a number of concerns that have not adequately been addressed by PSE&G," Montville Mayor Deborah Nielson said.
Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for PSE&G, acknowledged that her company was considering going to the BPU for approval, and said so to state officials at a recent meeting, but added it had not filed an application.
"We have evaluated that option," Johnson said. "We have not announced a decision. Going to the BPU is always an option we have."
PSE&G plans to install a 500 kilovolt electric power line along a route that goes through 15 New Jersey towns from the Pennsylvania border to Roseland. It has been holding public meetings to talk about those plans, which include replacing existing towers with 190-foot towers, which are twice as tall.
Even if PSE&G seeks BPU approval instead of going to municipal planning boards, Johnson said it plans to work with municipal officials and to hold additional public meetings to address local concerns.
Nielson and others at the press conference alleged that PSE&G has failed to adequately address concerns at public meetings about health issues and the potential that property values could go down near the power line.
Jeff Tittell, executive director of the Sierra Club, and other environmentalists said the $650 million that PSE&G would spend on the project would be better spent on renewable energy such as wind and solar power. And BPU spokeswoman Janeen Lawlor said in a statement that state officials' emphasis on locally-generated clean energy might be a factor in evaluating PSE&G's proposal.
PSE&G officials say the new line, scheduled to be completed by 2012, is needed to avoid future power outages.
While only three municipalities were represented at Tuesday's press conference, local officials said they expect additional towns to join in opposition to the power line. In Morris County, the line would go through seven municipalities -- Boonton Township, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Montville, Rockaway Township, East Hanover and Parsippany.
Joseph Pannulo, East Hanover's mayor, said he's concerned about potential health issues caused by electromagnetic fields, alleging that six people have cancer in seven homes on one block near the existing power lines in his township.
"You can call it a coincidence if you want," Pannulo said.
Johnson said no studies ever have linked electromagnetic fields to adverse health effects. She said PSE&G officials "don't believe" magnetic fields pose a risk to the public and added the company's plans would minimize those fields. Having the existing line and the new line on the same towers, she said, would cause them to cancel one another and reduce the magnetic field.
"We will get lower readings than what is out there now," she said.
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