‘Monster Power Line’ Project on Hold as Public Protests

WESTFIELD, NJ — Who knew what and when has emerged as a concern in a statewide upgrade of electrical lines slated for residential areas of the town.

With local opposition to the taller poles and more powerful lines growing, both Mayor Shelley Brindle and a PSE&G spokeswoman described initial conversations about the plan — including a Jan. 28 meeting that included the mayor, town administrator and a PSE&G executive — as talks that did not relay some key details about the project. They are details that later prompted significant public pushback in Westfield.

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“Although the project was mentioned during that informal meeting, we discussed the full scope at the Feb. 26 meeting with the Town Council,” said PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson of the meeting with Brindle and Town Administrator Jim Gildea. Johnson previously said the utility first notified the town about the project in December and has had a series of conversations since.

Brindle said municipal officials first learned the full scope of the project when representatives for the utility told the Town Council at a public meeting last month that it intends to cut down about 54 trees and trim about 40 trees as it makes room for the taller poles.

Prior to that, the conversations had been vague, she said.

“They gave a general overview of the project: ‘We’re doing this reliability pole replacement project. It’s going to have some tree impact,’” Brindle said, recounting the first meeting a government representative for PSE&G.

By Thursday afternoon, nearly 1,500 people had signed an online petition, “No Monster Power Lines in Westfield” in protest of the poles, even as the utility told residents it would do no more work on the project until it holds a public workshop to address the public concern. A date for the public workshop had yet to be set as of this writing.

Dondi Chambliss, who lives with his wife and two children, ages 23 and 17, on Scotch Plains Avenue, said he planted two trees on his property that would either be significantly cut back or chopped down if the project to install 65-foot poles proceeds.

“I am not happy about it,” said Chambliss, 57, pointing to a sprawling tree in his front yard. “I don’t know how they could even consider that.” It’s the health risks that he said are most worrisome, noting that Memorial Pool is just across the street from his home.

Chambliss is not alone. A handful of lawn signs on Scotch Plains Avenue warn: “Go Away PSE&G: Don’t Hurt My Family.” A handmade sign reads: “Join the Fight: Stop PSEG.”

This segment of the project would also run the higher power lines through Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Garwood and Cranford, Johnson said. The goal is to help minimize power outages.

“By installing stronger poles and state-of-the-art wires and other equipment, PSE&G has been upgrading its electric system throughout the state to withstand increasingly damaging storms,” Johnson said.

PSE&G plans to erect 65-foot tall power poles as it increases the power in its lines to 69 kilovolts, up from the existing 26 kV lines on Scotch Plains Avenue, Shackamaxon Drive, Rahway Avenue, Grove Street, Central Avenue and Sycamore Street, according to the utility.

Third Ward Councilman Mark LoGrippo, who represents residents in one of the impacted neighborhoods, is waiting for the promised public workshop with PSE&G.

“There’s concern regarding the actual route because either way PSE&G going to probably move forward with the project in some capacity," LoGrippo said. "But I would like to see them have the community outreach meeting.”

Westfield isn’t the first municipality to have wrangled with the utility over electric lines. PSE&G states on its website that it installed the upgraded lines in over 60 municipalities between 2007 and 2017. Indeed, the project raised the ire residents in the Bergen County borough of Rutherford in 2017, NorthJersey.com then reported.

In Ridgewood, also in Bergen County, the pole project landed PSE&G in a battle before the Board of Public Utilities in 2013, an NJ.com report said. While the BPU rejected Ridgewood’s objections, it scolded PSE&G for not warning residents and village officials before starting the project, the report then said.

Brindle in an interview Thursday discussed leveraging Westfield’s existing relations with the utility to help find an alternative solution.

“We have always had a very strong relationship with PSE&G. My preference is to rely on that history of trust and a good strong relationship to come up with an alternate plan,” Brindle said. “However, I do think it’s good to have this threat of litigation on our back pocket.”

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh