(Bryn Lloyd-Bollard resides in Cranford, NJ, with his wife Jesse and their 19-month-old son Owen)
Union County, NJ, is the third most densely-populated county in the most densely-populated state in the nation. Concerns related to over-development, lack of green space, traffic congestion, the quality and safety of our schools, and property values are among the many 21st century challenges facing our neighborhoods. Today, one of the most urgent and consequential local matters—which relates to all the above concerns—is PSE&G’s proposal to run high voltage power lines down busy residential streets and school zones in Cranford, Westfield, Garwood, Fanwood, and Scotch Plains.
These new power lines suspended from taller 65-foot poles would carry, in addition to 69kV of electricity, a range of health, environmental, and economic risks. This is why Union County residents are banding together to demand a seat at the table and input into PSE&G’s development plans.
Our concerns are many. For one, PSE&G’s utility poles would be laced with a wood preservative called pentachlorophenol. This substance is classified as a B2 carcinogen and banned in other countries, with the European Union ceasing all production of it over a quarter century ago. In 2015, the UN Stockholm Convention, of which the US is not a signatory, called for a global ban on pentachlorophenol by a vote of 90 to 2. While PSE&G insists their poles are safe, studies have determined that "Contact of pentachlorophenol-treated wood products (e.g., utility poles) with soil provides another potential route of exposure, especially for small children."
As the father of a 19-month old child whose favorite pastime is digging around in dirt, even a tiny possibility of such exposure is completely unacceptable. Many of my neighbors with young children share similar sentiments. When a representative of PSE&G was asked at a recent public forum about using a non-toxic alternative to pentachlorophenol-treated wood, their response was that they use the substance because it’s cheaper and readily available. In other words, they’re prioritizing their bottom line before the health of our children.
While the health risks are foremost on the minds of families whose homes and schools lie feet away from the proposed route of the new lines, there are many other considerations that do not bode well for our communities’ future.
PSE&G estimates that its plan will necessitate uprooting 14 trees and trimming 47 others along Lincoln Ave. and Walnut Ave. in Cranford alone. In Westfield, their proposal called for cutting down 54 trees and trimming 40 more.
The company has pledged to plant two “utility-friendly” trees for every tree they uproot, but this is hardly a fair exchange. The saplings they will plant are termed "utility-friendly" because they are a species of tree that never grow tall—they will forever be dwarfed by the utility poles. Moreover, it takes decades for a tree to mature, meaning it will be at least a generation before our neighborhoods recover from the loss of foliage.
The beauty of Union County’s tree-lined streets is a major draw for families seeking to plant their roots here. It’s one of the things that make our neighborhoods a welcome refuge from the concrete jungles in which so many of us spend our working lives. It’s a reason why my partner and I chose Cranford as the place to start our family. Trees are stress-reducers and anti-depressants. They are among our only links to nature in highly-developed areas like ours. And at a time of a rapidly-changing climate and global deforestation, every tree makes a difference. We don’t need “utility-friendly trees”—we need tree-friendly utilities that don’t alter our environment to the whims of a power company.
A number of other concerns are being raised by our community—including questions about the safety of prolonged exposure to electromagnetic radiation, the negative impact on property values, the effect on traffic during the months’ long construction, and the general ugliness of the monster polls that have already been installed in Scotch Plains and Union.
After concerted community pushback and bipartisan support from local, county, and state leaders, PSE&G has said they are exploring alternative routes for their high-powered lines to minimize the impact on our neighborhoods. But this fight is far from over and it’s vital that every concerned resident of Union County be involved to make sure that PSE&G is responsive to our communities’ needs.
For more information and to learn how to get involved, please visit: