Even though the 69-kilovolt project is on hold, residents might see PSE&G trucks in Westfield as the utility finishes upgrades already underway on the north side of town.

WESTFIELD, NJ — PSE&G’s second plan to run taller utility poles and more powerful electric lines through the town has prompted a second online petition opposing the proposal and more questions from municipal officials, who are in talks with the utility over upgrades.

The developments follow a recent workshop at which PSE&G’s experts outlined the utility’s reasons for running the higher power lines and installing the taller poles along South Avenue. A prior plan for the poles had included more residential streets and more tree removals. The South Avenue plan calls for 24 trees to be removed, as compared to the approximately 50 trees originally slated to be cut, trees which would be replaced 2-for-1, PSE&G said.

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Signers of a petition objecting to the new plan, however, contend the second proposed route would adversely impact the municipality’s business district, and town officials continue to press PSE&G for answers.

“We’re still on a fact-finding mission,” said Councilman David Contract who, along with Councilman Doug Stokes, has been tabbed to help facilitate communications between PSE&G and the public. “We told them pretty clearly that the workshop probably raised more questions than it answered.” Contract directed the public to send questions on the project to psegproject@westfield.gov.

Mayor Shelley Brindle this week said she appointed Ward 3 and Ward 4 council members Contract and Stokes to serve as the liaisons to PSE&G. Brindle outlined three areas where the municipality is seeking further information from the utility:

  • Specifics regarding the cost and feasibility of moving the power lines underground
  • Documentation specifying the project’s necessity and the scope of its mandate, including if it is considered by the regional grid operator to be “baseline or supplemental”
  • Concerns about the vegetation management plan, including the necessity of removing trees along the South Avenue route

Brindle said the concerns had been raised during the recent workshop at which experts for the utility detailed PSE&G’s case for the running the 69-kilovolt line the full length of South Avenue, taking down existing power poles on the route and replacing them with 65-foot-tall poles.

According to PSE&G, it would cost roughly seven times more money to put the lines underground. While pricey, burying the lines would not be unprecedented for PSE&G's parent company, PSEG.

In January, PSEG agreed to bury one mile of much-maligned overhead transmission lines in Eastport, New York, a suburban municipality in Suffolk County, a report in The Southampton Press said. PSEG estimated the $9 to $13.5 million cost to bury the one mile of wires would not lead to a rate hike there, the report said.

While a specific cost estimate for burying the lines of the Union County project — and the potential impact on local ratepayers — has not been calculated, plans approved by the regional grid operator, PJM Interconnection, earlier this year show PSE&G’s intent to invest $146 million in the overhead line project. The proposal calls for taking an aging power substation in Clark out of service and replacing it with a new one Cranford at the site of a proposed apartment building.

As of last week, PSE&G was still negotiating with the owner of 750 Walnut Ave. in Cranford to purchase space on that site, where the developer, Hartz Mountain Industries, intends to build 905 apartments.

Asked for a response to Westfield's latest concerns, a spokeswoman for the utility offered the following statement: "Westfield’s mayor asked us to work with two councilmen to resolve several issues, and we need to respect the process that has been established," said the spokeswoman, Rebecca Mazzarella. "We will update our customers once a solution has been reached."

Mazzarella also pointed to a project in nearby Union Township — where the utility recently installed the 69-kilovolt lines — something requiring tree removals that on Wednesday PSE&G workers more than replaced in number with the planting of 150 trees in a park along Winslow Avenue.

“Union Township is a great example of how PSE&G works with municipalities toward a mutually beneficial vegetation management plan,” said Mazzarella in an email. “As part of the 69 kV project in Union, we removed several hazard trees and replaced them with utility friendly trees that will not interfere with the power lines.”

Even though the 69 kV project is on hold, Brindle said, residents might see PSE&G workers in Westfield.

“PSE&G plans to complete some ongoing work they have been doing on the north side of town over the last few months,” she said. “They will be dropping notifications to all affected residents and businesses in the coming days with more details, and I want to reiterate in advance — so that there’s no confusion when folks see their crews out — that this is not part of the 69 kV project, but instead bringing to completion a project that has been underway for quite some time.”

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

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