Not so fast.
That’s the message the National Park Service sent to the Obama administration less than two months after the president put Public Service Electric and Gas Company’s proposed transmission line upgrade on a fast track.
Public Service Electric and Gas Company and PPL Electric Utilities are seeking to upgrade an aging transmission corridor currently carrying 230-kilovolt lines. Starting at the Susquehanna station in Pennsylvania, the line travels 45 miles through New Jersey once it crosses the Delaware River. It stretches through Andover, Boonton Township, Byram, East Hanover, Fredon, Hardwick, Hopatcong Borough, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Montville, Newton, Parsippany, Rockaway, Roseland, Sparta and Stillwater before ending in Roseland.
Last Monday, the park service released its draft environmental impact statement for the Susquehanna-Roseland project. In that document, which spans two volumes totaling more than 100 MB of space online, the NPS says its “preferred environmental alternative” of six is the no-build alternative.
The park service chose this option, it said, because it is the one that “causes the least damage to the biological and physical environment and that best protects, preserves, and enhances historic, cultural, and natural resources.”
That’s a common-sense conclusion that would not seem to have needed five chapters, 11 appendixes and close to two years of study.
And still, it’s only an interim answer.
For the next two months, the NPS is going to be taking public comment on the document, including three public hearings in January. It will probably spend another eight months analyzing all the information and issue its final environmental impact statement next fall. That will have to name the park service’s “preferred alternative,” in addition to its “preferred environmental alternative.” Believe it or not, these two recommendations are often not the same.
Even though this was only an interim report, environmentalists and other opponents obviously were buoyed by it, saying the park service made the right choice to protect public parkland.
It’s bad enough the park already includes 230-kilovolt lines on existing poles. Opponents don’t want to see even higher poles -- towering as much as 195 feet above streams and woodlands, marring the vistas of the water gap.
PSE&G and PPL Electric Utilities say the higher towers and additional lines are needed to keep the lights blazing, computers surfing, TVs blaring and everything else that modern society uses working.
Without the additional power, homes and businesses will have to suffer through additional blackouts and brownouts, the utilities maintain. That’s a sensitive topic for those who have suffered as many as two weeks without electricity due to the late summer and fall rain, wind and snow storms that have plagued New Jersey.
While the park service report found the five 500-kilovolt line alternatives would all significantly impact wetlands, wildlife and historic sites at the very least, it’s possible the NPS will ultimately agree to one of those.
After all, it's hard to say, "No" to the president of the United States, and the White House has put this and six other projects on a fast track as a way to both modernize the nation’s electric grid and create jobs.
Fast is not a word that has described this project so far. It’s taken some four years to get this far and while the original completion date had been projected to be next summer, the earliest the upgrade could be built should it win final approvals is estimated to be 2015.
Anyone who lives or works along the path of the line, or who cares about the park and its vistas, or who is concerned about the availability of electricity in the future, can get involved in the process.
The only New Jersey hearing is scheduled for Thursday, January 26 at 6 p.m. at the Farmstead Golf and Country Club in Lafayette, preceded by an open house at 2:30 p.m. People can read the report and comment on it on the NPS’ site devoted to the project. Comments will be accepted through January.
Colleen O'Dea is a writer, editor, researcher, data analyst, web page designer and mapper with almost three decades in the news business. Her column appears Mondays.