MONTVILLE, NJ – High-powered electric lines owned by power company PSE&G already run through town, and when JCP&L announced it wanted to install high-powered lines in the township in 2014, it was met with a great deal of backlash from residents who lived in the areas near the placement of the lines, such as the Montville Chase and Montville Meadows neighborhoods.
Power company FirstEnergy, which operates in the state as JCP&L, had proposed a 230-kilovolt transmission line to connect existing substations in East Hanover and Montville in order to enhance service reliability, add redundancy and meet growing demand, according to their explanation.
Township administration and residents met with JCP&L for a series of hearings and meetings that lasted years. An agreement was hashed out, and in May of 2016, the township and JCP&L placed the agreement before Judge Leland McGee.
Township attorney Fred Semrau reported that JCP&L had agreed to build only one transmission tower instead of two, and that the lines would run further away from the Meadows development than previously proposed. He said fighting to have the utility bury the wires “would have been an uphill battle,” because requests or suits have not been awarded in any cases. They are cost prohibitive, he said, back in June of 2016 when he described the agreement with the company.
But prior to that agreement being reached, the Montville Township Public School District filed in the fall of 2015 to become an intervener in the case against JCP&L, because of the line’s proximity to Lazar Middle School.
This was not the first time the district had battled against a power company building lines near Lazar. Former superintendent Paul Fried and district administration had negotiated a settlement with PSE&G back in 2014 for $1.5 million to relocate Lazar’s playing fields to the high school when the district could not prevent that company from installing 500kv lines as part of its Susquehanna-Roseland Transmission Line upgrade, NJ.com reported.
In August 2017, the township’s JCP&L agreement was accepted by the Office of Administrative law, according to Semrau. The Board of Public Utilities issued its Final Decision and Order on Nov. 21, 2017, which included the township’s settlement with JCP&L and the slight rerouting of the lines in Montville.
On Jan. 18, 2018, the Montville school district filed its notice of appeal to the state Superior Court appellate division, indicating it was appealing the BPU’s decision. JCP&L, the township, the Division of Rate Counsel and the BPU all filed preliminary documents to oppose the appeal, according to Semrau.
According to reporting by the Associated Press, the Board of Ed argued in the appeal that the line wasn't the best alternative available, could pose health risks to the nearby Lazar School students, and would limit potential expansion of the school.
The appeal was rejected on Nov. 1, 2019 with the court’s opinion stating that JCP&L had properly considered environmental concerns in choosing the route. JCP&L’s argument was burying the line would have cost four times as much and would have risked wetlands. While the utility presented experts who downplayed the opinion that high voltage wires are a health risk, the Montville Board of Ed presented none to state that the power lines would pose a risk, according to the Associated Press.
In July of 2014, TAPinto Montville reported that Assistant Superintendent Casey Shorter stated at a Board of Education meeting that EMF ratings inside the school had been found to not be at harmful levels, and the board was taking steps to assure that it was monitoring the levels presented by 230 kV PSE&G lines that run behind the school. Board of Ed documents from 2017 and September 2019 state that EMF measurements are “consistent with other sampling events” and the power lines behind Lazar Middle School are not increasing EMF measurements inside the building.
Superintendent of Schools René Rovtar wrote in a statement to TAPinto Montville, “At the end of last week, the Appellate Division – without oral argument – affirmed the decision of the BPU to permit the JCP&L power lines which the Board of Education had fought and continue to fight. The decision recites the excellent testimony of the then-Board President and the several legal arguments made on behalf of the board. The Board of Education carried on in this effort alone after the township had resolved its issues without requiring any change in the placement of the lines. The board did retain an expert on the consequences of the power line placement, but to have engaged an expert on alternative placements, including burying the lines, would have been prohibitively expensive. Board counsel will file a time notice of further appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court, because the board sees this as an issue of public importance. The board remains hopeful that the issues will ultimately be resolved in the public’s best interest.”
According to township administration, Maser Consulting was contracted for professional engineering testimony in the township’s suit and the cost was $112,682.
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