WESTFIELD, NJ — A long awaited decision on a public utility’s plan to place more powerful electric lines on top of taller power poles is anticipated within the next several weeks as PSE&G works on a route that could entirely avoid the town’s streets.
PSE&G spokesman Mike Jennings said that the utility would not start construction on the project until it decides on a route and communicates that decision to the public — something the utility anticipates doing in the next two to three weeks.
“We have been researching the possibility of routing the new power lines along the Conrail tracks, including the costs, the right-of-way’s existing constraints and conditions and Conrail’s current and future operational needs,” Jennings said this week. “PSE&G is in the final stages of this technical evaluation and expects to communicate the results in the next several weeks.”
The plan PSE&G is considering would run the lines the Conrail right of way in Clark and avoid residences in Westfield entirely, something both town officials and residents in Westfield are seeking. PSE&G said it had initially communicated the project to Westfield’s local government in December, but the initial talks lacked detail. The upgraded power poles are slated to be 65 feet tall, an increase from existing 50-foot poles.
This week, Councilman David Contract who represents the town’s interest in the project, said he hopes the length of time it is taking for a decision on the route will be worth the wait.
“This process has taken a lot longer than they originally projected, but that’s OK with Councilman Stokes and I,” said Contract, who along with Councilman Doug Stokes was appointed to negotiate with PSE&G. “Throughout the process, we have been firm that these 69 kV lines don’t belong on residential streets and should be instead located along the Conrail train tracks where existing 230 kV lines reside.”
While running the lines along the Conrail right of way would please Westfield, the proposition to run the lines in Clark has sparked concern in the neighboring township — albeit not the vociferous opposition seen in Westfield and from its other neighbor, Cranford.
“A few people care, but we realize we’re not as deeply affected here as Westfield and Cranford,” said Delia Collins, whose Georgia Street in Clark home abuts the tracks. “Still, we’re a residential area. Just because we have a railroad in our backyard doesn’t mean we’re not a residential area.”
The neighborhood advocacy group No Monster Power Lines — Westfield has opposed to the plan for taller power poles, which were first slated to go through a more residential route in Westfield and then moved to a more direct route along South Avenue, before PSE&G said it would consider running the power lines by the railroad tracks.
In a statement for the group, resident David Krieger said the neighbors have been disappointed by the delays in PSE&G’s assessment, but that if the utility moves forward with the alternate plan, sparing Westfield from seeing soaring power lines, it will have been worth the wait.
“From inception, Westfield residents and officials have urged PSE&G to use the Conrail route,” Krieger added. “PSE&G gave differing accounts on why this route was not an initial option, including the existence of catenary wires, a statement PSE&G has since acknowledged is incorrect. Any assertion by PSE&G or Conrail that this more direct, pre-existing route is untenable due to additional cost or nuisance should not be a viable excuse to threaten our community.”
PSE&G continues to emphasize the public benefit of the new power lines and notes the work is part of an upgrade of its electric system it is implementing statewide.
“These upgrades include replacing the existing 26 kV network, which was built more 50 years ago, with a modern 69 kV network,” Jennings said. “The new lines will include smart sensors and relays that are able to identify developing problems and automatically redirect the flow of electricity to keep customers online.”
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