FLEMINGTON, NJ – If Jersey Central Power & Light’s most recent plans are approved by state regulators, you can expect to see more aggressive tree-trimming in Hunterdon.

That’s what JCP&L Area Manager Stan Prater told the Freeholders at their meeting Tuesday.

TAPinto first reported on the plan, which JCP&L calls Reliability Plus, last month.  

Sign Up for E-News

Prater said the plan is not the result of recent findings made by the state Board of Public Utilities, but, “We believe that a lot of the things we’ve identified will address some of the things there.”

The BPU findings, which followed the blackouts that lasted for weeks in March,  resulted in the state ordering that JCP&L hire more personnel, improve training, and conduct an audit of its utility poles.

Prater said the Reliability Plus plan is intended “to enhance reliability and resiliency in our infrastructure.” It is expected to cost $400 million over four years, he said, and would include  “improving overhead circuitry, substation reliability, distribution automation, underground system improvements” and “enhanced tree-trimming.”

“Right now we are restricted to where we can trim, how far we can trim and how high we can trim,” Prater said. “So we’re asking the BPU to give us more latitude ... we’re looking at removing ash trees that are off right of way.

“If there’s an ash tree on a private owner’s property that could potentially damage our infrastructure, we’re going to work with the homeowner to get approval to take that ash tree down,” he said.

The county has reported on the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle whose larvae feed on ash trees and can result in their death.

Prater said JCP&L also seeks approval to use more “smart fuses to ... identify and pinpoint outages quickly.” If approved, the utility would seek a rate increase that would cost the average customer 26 cents for first six months, ramping up to $1.89 a month during the four-year effort.

“Every town in Hunterdon County has been identified for some improvements,” Prater said.

East Amwell resident Frances Gavigan complained to Prater about the company’s “Depression-era infrastructure.”

Out-of-state workers brought in to repair widespread outages claim “they’ve never seen anything that old,” Gavigan said. “When people from West Virginia say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never see anything like this,’ shame on JCP&L and the state BPU for allowing it to happen.”

“We’re a low population, low priority community,” Gavigan said. “People lose their power, up on the mountain, for days, weeks at a time. We’re not important enough ... it’s the way things are prioritized.”

She said that, “What’s necessary to improve the infrastructure hasn’t been done.” Gavigan invited Prater to “Go down Cider Mill Road,” which straddles East Amwell and Raritan townships. “If a wire goes down, it starts a fire.”

Gavigan said JCP&L should “inventory the age of the poles and the infrastructure. It’s been asked for, it’s never been provided.”

However, an audit of those poles is one of the instructions issued to JCP&L by the BPU last month. The BPU ordered all pole-owning utilities to conduct a safety audit of their wooden utility poles consistent with the most recent codes on pole strength, and consider “parameters that contribute to the structural integrity of the pole-line infrastructure” during inclement weather.

The state set a 180-day deadline to complete the audit.