MONTVILLE, NJ – About 100 residents, attorneys, and public officials gathered at the Montville Township High School on Dec. 8 for a public hearing regarding JCP&L’s proposed construction of power-line towers that will traverse Montville Township.

“The Montville-Whippany Reinforcement Project is a proposed 230-kilovolt transmission line that will connect existing electric substations in East Hanover and Montville to enhance service reliability, add redundancy and meet the growing demand for power in northern New Jersey,” according to JCP&L’s website.

“JCP&L will utilize an existing transmission corridor along most of the route, which will reduce the line’s overall impact on communities and property owners.

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“JCP&L is constructing the project in response to directives from PJM Interconnection, the regional electric grid operator, which has notified JCP&L to address reliability issues that could impact electric service to customers by 2017. When completed, the new line will afford JCP&L greater flexibility for rerouting power and bringing additional electrical capacity to the area.” The route for the lines is seven miles long, according to JCP&L’s website, and would pass through sections of East Hanover, Parsippany-Troy Hills and Montville.

Township officials and residents have expressed negative feelings about the current proposal for the project at township committee meetings. Opposition is especially strong in the Montville Chase and Montville Meadows neighborhoods, which would be most directly affected by the project.

The Board of Public Utilities, which oversees such projects, has named Judge Leland McGee as adjudicator for the project.

Evidentiary hearings will be held in May of 2016, and the judge’s decision will be a recommendation to the Board of Public Utilities. “It would be unusual for the BPU to reject his decision,” Montville Township Board of Education attorney Steven Edelstein has stated.

On Dec. 8, the public gathered at MTHS for a public hearing presided over by Judge Danielle Pasquale. She stated that it was her responsibility to gather comments from those present for Judge McGee. A court stenographer was present to transcribe all testimony.

First to speak was Gregory Eisenstark, whose law firm represents JCP&L. He stated that the public had been given notice of that night’s public hearing via print advertisement and notice to all property owners within 200 feet of the proposed construction. He provided a brief overview of the legal basis for the petition.

“If the BPU determines the project is reasonably needed for the service convenience or welfare of the public it will approve the petition and allow JCP&L to construct the project. JCP&L submitted testimony on: overview of the project; design, engineering and construction  of the project; need for the project; transmission planning process; route selection and routing study; environmental impact; real estate and property rates; analysis of real property evaluation issues; electric and magnetic fields; noise; and EMF [electromagnetic fields]  and health issues,” said Eisenstark.

To read JCP&L’s petition to the BPU, click Montville-Whippany 230kv Petition

Eisenstark then introduced Scott Humphreys, a FirstEnergy Transmission Service Specialist.

Humphreys stated that he works on siting and obtaining regulatory approvals for projects.

“The Project entails the construction of a new 230 kV transmission line from JCP&L’s Whippany substation, located in East Hanover, to its Montville substation, located in Montville, along with the associated upgrades to these substations. The Montville substation is currently supplied by two 230 kV circuits,” Humphreys said. “This project will add a third 230 kV source into the Montville substation.

“The company conducted a comprehensive routing study to determine the best route for the project. After extensive field work and analysis, the Routing Study selected five alternative routes for additional study. Ultimately, the Routing Study team selected ‘Route A3’ as the Preferred Route for the project, because it had the least cumulative human, environmental, and financial impacts compared with the other routes.

“In addition, the Preferred Route can be constructed largely within existing rights of way, and therefore satisfies BPU regulations regarding siting transmission lines,” Humphreys said.

Four public information sessions were held, Humphreys said, and public officials were contacted.

Humphreys then described the project. It would enter Montville Township near John Henry Drive, and would be adjacent and parallel to current single-pole double-circuit wooden structures supporting 34 1/2 kv lines. Easements currently being used and undeveloped easements would be used, and 34 1/2 kv lines would be put on new, steel monopoles below the new 230 kv circuits.

Humphreys discussed the need for the project and stated that in 2012, PJM, the organization that oversees the reliability of the electric transmission system for electricity distribution in 13 states, identified upgrades necessary “in order to meet near-term demand growth of electricity needs.” He said that if the system experienced simultaneous loss at the Montville substation, more than 80,000 would have a service outage.

He stated the project will conform with New Jersey state guidelines on EMF levels, that the seven-mile route will only need .4 miles of new rights of way, and 1.4 miles of current rights of way will need expansion. He stated that testimony in the petition from a real estate agent says that “no diminution of property value will occur.”

Brian Weeks, Esq., spoke next, on behalf of the Division of Rate Counsel.

“Our office was created by the New Jersey Legislature to represent ratepayers in cases such as this, where a utility seeks permission to construct a new transmission line that may increase rates,” he said. Weeks explained the project further, and stated that construction of the project will require removing vegetation, including trees, especially in areas of existing but unused JCP&L rights of way. He stated the project would cost $35.5 million and take between nine and 16 months. He said the Rate Counsel’s inquiry is “focused on the critical issue of whether JCP&L’s proposal allows ratepayers to pay the lowest rates possible consistent with receiving safe, reliable and proper service,” and “expert consultants will be utilized to assist us with our review of the project.”

Attorney Mark Peck then spoke on behalf of Montville Township. He stated that the Notice Given to Public is misleading, because it states that the route discussed tonight is the “preferred” route, but it is actually the “proposed” route. He stated that under the statute, JCP&L needs to show that the proposal is “reasonably necessary,” and that “consideration must be given to the community, and reasonable alternatives must be considered.” He stated that underground construction would be a reasonable alternative in limited segments, or using the “underbuild configuration which would consolidate the lines on one monopole.”

Township Mayor Scott Gallopo spoke next. He stated, in part:

“Montville Township is opposed to the build-out of this line. JCP&L has not fully considered, nor have they exhausted, the Township’s concerns and repeated requests to re-route this project. The proposed transmission line for this project will run approximately 100 feet from the Meadows at Montville development. The proposed transmission line will run approximately 50 feet from the homes in Montville Chase. The transmission tower will stand between 110 and 150 feet tall [and] will run approximately 100 feet from the pool and the playground for the Meadows development.

“[Residents have stated] numerous public concerns, questions and requests for changes to the proposed line, [but] JCP&L has failed to address any of these concerns, has failed to exhaust all possibilities and alternatives to this line, has failed to seriously explore building the line underground as it traverses through the Meadows and Montville Chase residential developments.

“JCP&L has not requested that all or a portion of this line be abandoned and utilize the infrastructure already in place and built by PSE&G located in Montville. Montville did request this of PSE&G and they did not refuse such a discussion. However, to date JCP&L has not made an effort to coordinate the use of such infrastructure with PSE&G.

“JCP&L has failed to provide any financial support to the objectors in order to provide guidance and assistance to evaluate this plan and any alternatives.

“[Montville] has been through this before. We are reasonable. We resolved a proposed project with PSE&G that was pending before the BPU. PSE&G made accommodations. They even funded our experts so that we could be informed and advised. We came to an amicable resolution. However, this time we are dealing with the same issues but the new participant is JCP&L and an amicable resolution and a cooperative spirit have simply not existed,” he stated.

Danny Mauriello, who is on the Board of Directors at the Meadows condominium complex, stated that the homeowners’ association asked JCP&L questions, but were never given responses.

“This is our home,” he said. “We have been stonewalled. They have treated us like they’re going to do whatever they want. They have to work with us.

“I’ve raised my family here but I can’t believe I need a judge to get my consideration. I’ll leave the jargon to the experts, but just because they say it doesn’t mean it’s fact. I need you to stand up for the little people, your honor,” Mauriello said.

Ann Weissman, who is also a member of the Meadows Board of Directors, spoke next.

“It is my sincere hope that the township will be able to work with JCP&L to formulate a solution that will not negatively impact our community, while at the same time meet their needs. […] No group of homeowners should be sacrificed for the benefit of others. JCP&L can and should run the lines in a manner that will not adversely impact communities.”

Weissman raised concerns about “JCP&L’s poor communication and lack of transparency.” Residents have requested a “mark out” to see where the towers would be placed, and questions about tower height and the distance between the towers have not been addressed, she said.

The construction of the towers will require clearing of the wooded area behind the residents’ units, she said, and she was concerned about flooding and the nearness of the towers to the development’s swimming pools, playground and clubhouse. She also stated concerns about home values in the development. When the Right of Way agreement was signed in 1958 by George Van Riper and JCP&L, “no one could have imagined or foreseen the intrusiveness of enormous transmission towers,” she said. “Electromagnetic fields can alter human biology,” Weissman stated.

Montville Township Board of Education attorney Karen Wachs spoke next. She stated the BOE is a major land owner affected by the project, and that there are health, safety, and aesthetic concerns because the project is adjacent to school property.

Caroline Record spoke next, as the attorney for the Meadows at Montville development. She stated her firm has been attempting to get “basic information” for two years, such as locations, distance between the towers, and the location of the arms of the towers. She requested that the new towers be pushed back as far as possible.

Alan Pressman of Montville Chase condominium complex spoke next to state his concerns for all residents affected by the project. He called the project “unsightly and dangerous.” He stated his concerns regarding home values.

Gary Nagurka spoke next, as both a resident of Montville Chase and as a real estate agent. He stated that the towers would definitely affect adjacent home values. “People say to me, ‘oh that’s the development with the power lines!’ and they refuse to view units there,” Nagurka stated.

Edward Stroup, President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union #1289 spoke next. He stated he has been in the electrical industry for 38 years, and the Union strongly supports the need to build the project and upgrade. He stated that the former landowner (Van Riper) had been given “fair compensation” for the easement, and that “JCP&L should be able to use what they paid for.”

“You need transmission and distribution lines. You need generating stations. If you don’t have them, you won’t have electric power in the future. There will be blackouts and brownouts. Building these lines will increase the reliability and capacity of the systems. PJM is required to conduct studies and to identify necessary upgrades and enhancements. PJM has recommended the building of this line to improve and ensure the safety and reliability of this system for 87,000 customers. The substations will be upgraded and made stronger and more reliable. They will provide additional paths to reroute electric in times of need,” Stroup stated.

Warren Fisher stated he is strongly against the petition, and he is dismayed there were no challenges to the depositions in JCP&L’s petition. He said that stating homes within 100 feet of the project will not decrease in value is “patently asinine.” He was concerned that denuding the land will increase the flooding in his Parsippany neighborhood. He said he had never gotten notification of public meetings, but only received a letter saying his home was on the “preferred route.”

“I feel like they’re looking to get a blank check to do whatever they feel like doing,” Fisher said.

Len Fariello spoke on behalf of Wildlife Preserves, a non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife and green spaces. The organization owns Green Meadows in Parsippany. He said his group is opposed to the project because the proposed changes can be accomplished with less impact to the wetlands of New Jersey.

“From an environmental and visual standpoint, this is a disastrous plan,” he said.

Next to speak was Anthony Russo, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and Communications for the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey. He stated that after Superstorm Sandy, “many people agreed that the infrastructure needed to be improved. This project is important for the economy and I support these projects throughout the state.”

Jerry Keenan, Executive Vice President of the New Jersey Alliance for Action, spoke next.

“We’re all using more energy,” he said. “After Superstorm Sandy we had no power at my house for three days, but it felt like three years. This system will help JCP&L better serve all people.  We need to plan for redundancies, and we need to meet PJM requirements.”

Norbert Weldon of Weldon Materials stated that his company needs JCP&L to make improvements to the grid so his company can provide important infrastructure projects. The project will bring about enhanced reliability, he said.

Dirk Braen of Braen Stone Company said that his company has increased its power usage and wants to be able to maximize its production capabilities by having an improved power grid.

Paul Boudreau, the President of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, stated that workers in Morris County depend on energy.

“After Superstorm Sandy, everyone asked for more redundancy and the new administration at JCP&L is set to fix that situation,” he said. “The business community needs a strong power system.”

Township Committee Member Jim Sandham spoke next. He stated that the Township is not questioning the purchase of the rights of way but the placement of the lines. He stated residents’ concerns are not being heard, and the PJM study is ten years old and doesn’t take into account other sources of energy.

“There are vast differences between distribution and transmission of energy,” Sandham said.

He also said most of the companies testifying in support of the project will benefit from its construction. He said that PSE&G is a New Jersey company, and all resident concerns were addressed, whereas JCP&L, which is owned by an Ohio company, has not participated in a constructive dialogue and has just haphazardly checked boxes to rush through the petition process.

Albert Telsey, environmental attorney for Wildlife Preserves stated he showed the map of the proposed route to his kids and they pointed out that the planned route traversing the Green Meadows does not go through existing easements. He stated Wildlife Preserves owns about one-third of the land in the project yet received no notice.

Montville Township Administrator Victor Canning stated he has been in government for two decades, and is familiar with the concept of “negotiating in good faith.”

He stated the township has tried to be reasonable but JCP&L has not negotiated in good faith, since they did not send decision makers to a discussion session.

Board of Education Member Dr. David Modrak stated his concerns with EMF ratings that forced moving the Lazar Middle School playing fields to another site.

Robin Peluso and Godfrey Church, both of Parsippany, stated concerns about the affects of the project on wetlands near their homes.

Ron Morano, Senior Communications Representative for FirstEnergy Corporation, which owns JCP&L, stated after the meeting, “We are concerned with some of the comments shared at the hearing.

“JCP&L has always been and remains committed to meeting and working with all customers.

“The company has met with the community and elected officials about the project numerous times.

“JCP&L also offered several ways to receive information and ask questions about the project including four open house programs, newspaper advertisements about the meetings, letters to property owners, a section on the FirstEnergy website that includes a complete project map, fact sheet, the ability to submit questions and the BPU filing including testimony. JCP&L also has a website dedicated specifically to the project: http://www.energizingnjsfuture.com/ .

“We have sought public input and worked to establish a route for the line that will minimize the impact to residents, business, schools and the environment.”