November 26, 2008  

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Power lines may mar the scenery

(by Cindy Forrest - November 26, 2008)
As you drive along the bumpy, country road towards the pristine waters of Splitrock Reservoir, the only signs of civilization are the 80-foot high, lattice power line towers that cut a path through the 1,500 acres of preservation land in Rockaway Township. In summer, when the leaves are on the trees, the towers are only minimally visible from certain angles. However, the 500-kilovolt power line that Public Service Electric and Gas is proposing to cut across the Garden State would require more than double the tower height currently in place.

As a part of the proposed Susquehanna-Roseland powerline expansion project, which would carry three times the power running through the existing lines, giant monopoles 180 -200 feet high that would have to be built. At that height, the poles would be highly visible for miles and miles.

Concerned about the visual, environmental, financial and health impact of the PSE&G plan, environmental and municipal representatives gathered recently at Splitrock Reservoir, in the heart of New Jersey’s Highlands Region. The groups represented a broad range of constituencies with a similar message: a project of this scope and size must meet the natural and scenic resource requirements of the 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

“"The Highlands Act was adopted to protect the region's water quality and sensitive lands. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection should enforce the law and reject PSE&G's request to skirt around the protections of the Act," said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director, Environment New Jersey.

Under the Highlands Act "routine maintenance and operations, rehabilitation, preservation, reconstruction, repair, or upgrade of public utility lines” is allowed with the provision that the activity is consistent with the goals and purposes of the environmental law.  In order to move the project forward PSE&G has applied for the Highlands Act exemption, known as a Highlands Applicability Determination (HAD).

 “PSE&G’s current proposal cutting through the most environmentally sensitive lands in the Highlands, is grossly inconsistent with the mandatory resource protection elements of the Highlands Act, to ensure the future integrity of the region and sustainable water supplies for more than half of New Jersey’s residents,” stated Mark Zakutansky of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition.

The Highlands Act exempts 17 types of activities from strict preservation area rules: certain projects with prior approvals, construction of a single-family dwelling on an existing lot, etc. PSE&G’s proposed power line expansion is the first project of this scope and magnitude to come before the NJDEP for such an exemption. It is also the first project of this nature requiring the NJDEP to determine if it is “consistent with the goals and purposes of the Highlands Act.”

NJDEP spokeswoman Karen Hershey said that due to the complexity of the project there is no estimate as to when the department will make a decision about the exemption. 

PSE&G claims that the high voltage line is necessary to maintain electric system reliability for customers throughout the region. In a statement the company advised that they would “negotiate construction access agreements as appropriate.”

However the prep and site work remain a serious concern for local leaders. "Construction work for this project poses a threat to environmentally sensitive lands - steep slopes adjacent, groundwater recharge areas and threatened and endangered species habitat," observed Scott Olson, a Byram Township councilman. "To ensure no harm is done to these resources, this project must be put through a necessary and thorough scrutiny and review by the Highlands Council."

Because of the considerable impacts that construction of the taller towers may have on the landscape and scenic integrity of the region, these representatives have approached the NJDEP. They are asking that the Highlands Council be charged with conducting a consistency review of PSE&G’s Highlands Applicability Determination (HAD) application to ensure that the project is consistent with the Highlands Act and will not threaten the resources that the Legislature set forth for protection.

 “This power line will cut an ugly scar through the Highlands destroying wetlands, harming our environment and promoting development in the region,” stated Jeff Tittel director NJ Sierra Club. “The Highlands Council, the NJDEP and the BPU must do their job by using oversight and strictly enforcing laws and regulations to stop this horrible project.”

Some government leaders have banded together to fight, as a group for people’s rights. The Coalition of Concerned Municipalities includes Andover, Byram, East Hanover, Fredon, Montville, Newton, Parsippany-Troy Hills and Stillwater.

In addition there is a grassroots campaign being waged against the proposed power line. Dave Slaperud of Stop the Lines, a citizen-based group representing hundreds of affected landowners along the line, contends that adding a 500Kv line to the existing 230Kv line is unnecessary, excessive, and a threat to the natural resources.

“This project is a huge and very real threat to our environment,” he said, “that would include drilling and blasting. 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. Faced with a slowing demand for more energy (~1 percent per year), we certainly do not need a 700 percent increase in transmission capacity through the state.”

On Nov. 6, PSE&G announced that it plans to file a formal application with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) before the end of the year. The BPU will have the opportunity to review the project and ensure that it is necessary for reliability and is appropriate considering the wide range of investments New Jersey is planning in terms of renewable energy sources as outlined in the New Jersey Energy Master Plan.

In Rockaway Township the line passes through mostly non-residential areas; however, there could be an unintended consequence for residents.  Although they said that the official information is proprietary and therefore can’t be confirmed, both Olson and Zakutansky agree that the proposed line would make the biomass project currently in the application process in the township, “more viable.”

“If the biomass plant were to open, the power would have to go somewhere, so having the capacity of the larger lines would make it easier transport,” said Zakutansky. 

The $650,000 Susquehanna-Roseland Project being proposed would be built between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The selected route, Route B, begins in Hardwick Township, Warren County, proceeds east to Andover Township, Sussex County, and on to Jefferson Township, Morris County. The route continues east to Montville Township and then turns south to Roseland Borough, Essex County.

The line follows an existing power line for the entire 45-mile length and will pass through 15 municipalities: Andover, Boonton Township, Byram, East Hanover, Fredon, Hardwick, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Montville, Newton, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Rockaway Township, Roseland, Sparta and Stillwater.

Cindy Forrest can be contacted at: forrestc@northjersey.com.


 

 

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