Showdown Coming in NJ?

The Susquehanna-Roseland line is now in its “alternatives” phase of the Environmental Impact Statement(EIS) process.  The National Park Service (NPS) has proposed a number of alternatives to resolving impacts on the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area(DWGNRA).  Most of these alternatives involve routing the S-R line around the DWGNRA or not building the line at all.

Transmission line already runs through the DWGNRA, but the existing right of way is only about 100 feet wide.  The power companies PPL and NJPSEG, builders of the S-R line, will be adding a 500 kV line to the existing right of way, increasing tower heights to 200 feet.  The power companies had to file an EIS application with the NPS because they also wanted to increase the width of the existing right of way to 200 feet.

PPL and NJPSEG are now screaming about having the re-route their new line.  They have decided that they can make do with the existing 100 foot wide right of way through the DWGNRA, and don’t need to widen it.  The power companies have included this new proposal in their recently filed comments to the NPS.  Here is how the Lehigh Valley News quotes a power company spokesman in its recent article:

The utilities hope the new option makes project approval more likely and possibly expedites the process, Wirth said.

“We’re convinced from an engineering standpoint we could build the line on a right of way of that size,” Wirth said of the 100-foot width. “It remains to be seen if that would affect the timeline at all.”

Comments the utilities submitted by Tuesday’s deadline say the National Park Service “must recognize that the proposed construction could take place through the use of the applicants’ valid and enforceable legal rights.

“Any action by (the park service) that purports to limit the applicants existing rights would constitute a taking of those rights.”

The comments sent Monday to the park service request that the new alternative be included among other options the park service is reviewing, Wirth said.

Wirth noted there are no plans to immediately exercise the companies’ rights as they see them.

Limiting the right of way to 100 feet wide is not ideal, Wirth said, but has been discussed for “some time.” A 200-foot-wide right of way is ideal for the proposed nearly 200-foot-tall towers for construction and maintenance purposes, as well as safety by giving the wires room to sway without hitting trees, he said.

The path through the Delaware Water Gap parklands would be the power line’s narrowest along its 130-mile stretch from the Berwick, Pa., area to Roseland, N.J., but would be feasible by putting the towers closer together, Wirth said.

The reference to “Any action by (the park service) that purports to limit the applicants existing rights would constitute a taking of those rights…”  is a clear threat to sue if the NPS will not allow the power companies to try to cram their new transmission line onto the existing right of way, regardless of obvious safety and engineering problems.

It seems like threats are the order of the day when power companies don’t get their way.