National Park Service Files Draft EIS for S-R Line – Recommends No New Transmission Lines

The National Park Service, lead agency in the Environmental Impact Statement for the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission project, has posted its draft EIS here.  The NPS has recommended that the S-R line not be built through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian Trail, which NPS also administers.  This is big news, especially considering that the Obama Administration has fast tracked the S-R line for special ramrod treatment.

Keep in mind that this is a draft of the EIS.  There will be three public comment meetings in January 2012 and I’m sure the power companies behind S-R, PA’s PPL and NJ’s PSEG, will have lots to say.

PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, has already publicly stated that they believe the fix is already in on S-R as a result of high level talks between Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the two S-R power companies.  Here is what a PEER spokesman said:

PEER contends that Secretary Salazar, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and other Interior officials have met repeatedly with project proponents, PPL Electric Utilities of Allentown, Pennsylvania (PPL) and Public Service Electric and Gas Company of Newark, New Jersey (PSE&G), and have already approved a route for a new power line that will cut across the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  The power line will be strung on 200 foot-tall towers that will permanently impair the scenic values of one of the most beautiful areas in the crowded Northeastern Corridor of the United States.

For at least three years, the NPS has been developing an environmental impact statement (EIS) to consider the PPL/PSE&G proposal, following the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The draft EIS is supposed to be announced to the public for comment before the end of 2011. The transmission line will bring power from PPL generating facilities at Berwick, Pennsylvania across the Delaware River and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (NRA) to northern New Jersey.

As part of the deal, the draft EIS will NOT consider at least two alternatives that would lessen impacts to the park’s scenery (#6 and #7) but will include at least one alternative (#2B) demanded by the companies that is untenable from a safety perspective.   The Secretary and the Director have unofficially committed to the companies that the NPS will select Alternative 2, the alternative preferred by the companies but which is the most damaging to the resources and scenery of the parks.  In return, the companies have reportedly agreed to pay $60 million for land acquisition and administration inside and near the NRA.

“This is not ‘fast track,’ it is a short circuit in which political appointees are putting their thumbs on the scale to skew the review process,” Ruch added.   “It is one thing to select an alternative after the conclusion of the NEPA process, but is something else to decide on the alternative before public comment has even begun.”

It looks like someone at NPS saw the Obama ramrod effort and decided to stand up for their agency’s integrity.

In the draft EIS, NPS is supporting its Alternative 1 – No Action.  Here is how the NPS describes the result of Alternative 1:

Under the no-action alternative, the NPS would deny the applications for right-of-way and construction permits to expand the B-K Line to a new double-circuit line through NPS lands. The existing B-K Line traverses approximately 4.3 miles of DEWA. The line initiates at the Susquehanna Substation and enters DEWA in Pennsylvania approximately 0.25 mile east of Big Bushkill Creek. The line then exits the park, connects to the Bushkill Substation, travels through developed areas, including Fernwood Golf Course, and reenters DEWA south of the South Zone Ranger Station and north of DEWA Headquarters, crossing MDSR just north of Depew Island. The line continues southeast past the Watergate Recreation Site and across APPA to the eastern DEWA boundary. There are 22 existing transmission towers located within DEWA  boundaries for the existing B-K Line, and there are no existing access roads to the ROW.

This alternative assumes that the existing line within the parks would remain in place without expansion or replacement. In essence, it assumes that current conditions on the ground will continue indefinitely into the future. However, the applicant could seek to expand or replace the existing utility lines within the existing easements through the parks. There are no proposals to do so at this time.

Subject to the foregoing qualification, however, the no-action alternative assumes the following:

  •  No additional ROW would be granted to the applicant.
  • No additional transmission lines or increased voltage would be added.
  • No new construction activity would take place; therefore, activities would only include operation and maintenance of the existing line.
  • The existing towers would remain in place.

This action would have no effect on the existing transmission line outside NPS property. Though future construction could potentially occur within the existing ROW, for the purposes of the analysis, this alternative assumes that current conditions continue into the future and that no further construction occurs beyond the existing transmission line.

So there it is.  The NPS’s preferred alternative for S-R.  This is not such a big problem for the DWGNRA, because the S-R project can be rerouted around it.  However, the Appalachian Trail poses a real problem for NJ’s PSEG.

Looks like President Obama and Sec. Salazar will have to use some serious strong arm tactics on the Park Service if they want to help their friends at PPL and PSEG.

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