After 17 months, time to debate the power lines again
January 13, 2012
In early December, Saw Creek resident Al Spinelli got a letter with a Pennsylvania Power and Light letterhead informing residents that plans are moving forward for proposed changes to the Susquehanna to Roseland power lines.
“We continue to have the line built and in service by spring of 2015,” Spinelli read from the letter. Spinelli is a local activist who has led the fight against raising the existing power line towers to 195 feet and increasing the feed to 500 kilovolts, an increase that some critics of the idea say leads to cancer risks from electromagnetic waves.
That debate continues in a second round of public hearings on three successive days, the first on Jan. 24 at Fernwood Resort in Lehman Township, followed by one in Stroudsmoor Country Inn in Stroudsburg on Jan. 25 and one in Farmstead Golf and Country Club in Lafayette, N.J,. on the third day. There is an open house informational session from 2 to 4 p.m. at each hearing site each day, followed by the hearings from 6 to 9 p.m.
Seventeen months ago, Fernwood was packed with residents, business leaders and lawmakers, most of them expressing opposition.
These hearings come in the aftermath of the National Park Service’s Environmental Impact Statement which, combined with the comments from the upcoming hearings, will lead to a decision in October, and “probably sooner than that,” said Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Superintendent John Donahue, who must recommend either one of five proposed routes, or not allowing a change at all in the part of the 145-mile line that goes through national parkland.
“Demand (for power) is dropping,” Spinelli said. “It continues to drop by as much as 20 percent but some of these companies like PSE&G (Public Service Electric and Gas in New Jersey) and PPL refuse to let this line go and the Obama administration has fast tracked the line (for permits). There’s a huge disagreement whether it’s legal or not.”
Fred Stine of the Delaware Riverkeepers said that it is one of six fast-tracked energy projects, the other five west of the Mississippi River.
Some 6,700 comments were made at the last series of hearings and there is hope that the numbers will compare. But it may not come easily on this side of the Delaware.
New Jersey has an organized movement led by the New Jersey Highlands Coalition with strong support from Stop The Lines along with Save the Park, the Sierra Club of New Jersey and of Pennsylvania, as well as the National Parks Conservation Association out of Washington, D.C., and the Appalachian Mountains Club.
But Pennsylvanians have been strained by another issue that has stolen the attention over the past year — the natural gas drilling of Marcellus shale. Environmentalists say drilling encroaches on our natural resources and their esthetics and compromises quality of life of those residents.
“That has overwhelmed the activists and individuals (in Pennsylvania),” Stine said. “That’s where their energies are going and the impacts there. That’s huge. But this is huge. There are a lot of balls in the air right now. I do think that for people with limited time and resources and energy. The fracking issue is huge and puts a greater challenge on this issue but it’s still a winnable battle.”
The Riverkeepers take issue with the Environmental Impact Statement, saying that it does not recognize threats to water and the air from coal burning plants supplying the electricity, which can lead to acid rain that pollutes waterways.
Elliott Ruga, senior policy analyst and campaign coordinator for the N.J. Highland Coalition, said he is “very encouraged by the volume of public comment during the National Park Service scoping process” and said his group expects a solid turnout.
“PSE&G has just filed freshwater wetlands applications with New Jersey and that has energized concerns again,” said Ruga of the 750-page application. “PSE&G is trespassing for rights of way and a lot of people are angry. A lot of species and prime wetlands impacted.”
That becomes important in the Highlands region, which supplies more than half of the water to the state.
“In the Highlands, we have issues of concerns, not just the impact of power lines and other utility linear infrastructure projects such as pipelines to transport Marcellus shale gas,” said Ruga, referring to the drilling taking place in Pennsylvania. “Collectively, those things are shredding the Highland core forests into ribbons and have impacted their abilities to process a water supply.”
Herb Meyerson, head of the Friends of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, recognizes this is a not in my backyard stance by many residents who live around the power lines and has endorsed a “no action” alternative by the national park.
Meyerson said. “We must all work together to protect what is ‘everybody’s backyard’ for the inspiration and enjoyment of our children’s children. It is time we all recognize what a great gift the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is and help to protect it instead of trying to put everything we dislike in the park.”
The key, all sides agree, is if the public can sustain its passionate opposition that has been noticed by Donahue and his associates.
Money is involved. Saw Creek Estates took a restitution from the power companies to drop its lawsuit, which was becoming prohibitively expensive. Two days after that agreement, Spinelli resigned as a member of the Saw Creek Estates Board of Directors so he could continue the fight.
“I’m sure the public response to these meetings will be very strong,” Spinelli said. “The park’s leadership has done a great job holding the line against very powerful pressure.”
Donahue said the energy companies ” might come to the public and offer something huge for what they want.”
But Stine and Spinelli both said, “It’s not a done deal” for the 145-mile project to continue.
“We do need the public at these hearings,” Stine said emphatically.
To those in favor, it’s about progress. To the opponents, it’s about health and esthetics of keeping the beautiful vistas of nature undisturbed.
These hearings will figure in that decision in the fall.
Residents: Stop power line at national park
By David Pierce
Pocono Record Writer
January 13, 2012
The woman who played a key role in blocking the massive Tocks Island dam project four decades ago was among a dozen people who brainstormed Thursday night on how to stop a 147-mile long electric power line from going through the national park.
The dam project resulted in federal government evictions of 1,200 property owners along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But the dam was defeated in 1975 and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area originally created as part of the dam project preserved a free-flowing river, natural landscape and historic heritage.
Shawnee resident and former Monroe County Commissioner Nancy Shukaitis said the 1965 act creating the park included regulations that should prevent PPL Electric and PSE&G from placing taller towers in a park right-of-way. The utilities want to cross the park, river and Appalachian Trail near Fernwood Resort in Bushkill as part of its Susquehanna to Roseland, N.J., route.
“To do things a 1,000 times to the opposite of those rules is unbelievable,” Shukaitis said. “We can’t move the park, but we can move the line.”
Kate Millsaps of the New Jersey Sierra Club and Fred Stine of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network led the discussion in advance of National Park Service hearings at Fernwood Resort on Jan. 24 and Stroudsburg on Jan. 25 on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the power line plan. The NPS is expected to make a final decision among several options — from using the right-of-way, making other crossings, or not crossing the park at all — in about a year.
Shukaitis said dam opponents contacted congressmen in and around the Tocks Island — who nearly unanimously supported the project initially — and eventually convinced them to preserve the valley.
“Congress has to be educated just like everyone else on these sorts of things,” said Shukaitis, whose family lost farmland to the park. “This is our gift. It’s America’s gift to the Poconos.”
Shukaitis, accompanied by her husband Joe, expressed disappointment that more people didn’t attend the meeting.
Millsaps said 6,500 people expressed comments in 2010 during the initial National Environmental Policy Act “scoping” process. She expressed hope that people will turn out again for this month’s hearings.
She said the National Park Service identified the “no build” option as its preference in the draft review, but wide public support is needed for the NPS to ultimately direct the line elsewhere.
“We need to give them the public support so they can make that decision politically,” Millsaps said.
She said there are a hundred reasons to oppose the power line. But NPS is most interested in how tower height expansion from 95 feet to 195 feet, and possible right-of-way widening from 100 feet to 300 feet, will impact the park experience, Millsaps added.
“That’s the part that really needs to be driven home,” Millsaps said. “It will impair park resources.”