PSE&G has promised no construction until residents can have their questions answered at a community workshop.
WESTFIELD, NJ — Fearing reduced property values, health risks and the removal of tree cover on suburban streets, a standing-room-only audience at the Town Council chambers Tuesday opposed a plan to increase the height and voltage of some power lines running through town.
While PSE&G officials had previously been slated to present the plan to the council on Tuesday, that presentation was called off as community opposition mounted and municipal officials negotiated for alternatives, with the possibility of legal action close at hand.
“We’ve got the legal trigger ready to go, and they know that,” said Mayor Shelley Brindle, speaking to the 175 people in attendance. “But we’re giving them the opportunity to come back with an alternative solution.”
The initial plan, which PSE&G previously presented to the council, would have the utility remove about 54 trees and trim just over 40 additional trees as it installs approximately 65-foot-tall poles, and more than doubles the voltage of its lines from 29 kilovolts to 69 kilovolts, increasing the reliability of the electric grid, the utility previously said.
The line would run along Scotch Plains Avenue, Shackamaxon Drive, Rahway Avenue, Grove Street, Central Avenue and Sycamore Street, according to PSE&G, which on Tuesday posted on a statement to its website notifying the public that the project is on hold.
“PSE&G is planning a community workshop in which residents can have their specific questions about this project answered,” the utility said in the statement. “Details will be posted when available. Work will not begin until the workshop is conducted.”
David Krieger, a resident of Shackamaxon Drive, told the council he is concerned for the safety of his children.
“While there will always be cynics to scientific studies, who here would readily accept a utility conglomerate forcing you to play a game of Russian roulette with your family’s health and well being?” Krieger asked.
He noted that the high school’s cross country team can be seen running down his tree-lined street regularly during practices.
“I can’t imagine this would continue if their run turned into a sun-exposed tree-less corridor,” said Krieger, who also predicted a decline in property values if the project is approved.
Drew Matus, who lives on Scotch Plains Avenue, said the proposed route of the wires goes through residential neighborhoods and would pass the middle school, high school and Gary Kehler Stadium.
Matus fears the risk that the more powerful electric fields could bring.
“We are going to become a grand medical experiment for PSE&G if we let them drive these things through our neighborhoods in the way that they intend,” he said.
Jim Foerst, a former Westfield councilman and an attorney, lives along the proposed route.
"We cannot be the transmission alley for a private utility company," Foerst said. "It sets a precedent."
Councilwoman Dawn Mackey said the utility came at the town quickly with a plan it had successfully implemented other municipalities, albeit not Westfield.
“They told us ‘we’ve done this in 60 to 70 municipalities’ and I told them ‘you haven’t tried this in Westfield yet,’” Mackey said.
Councilman Mark LoGrippo pointed to Westfield’s past successes in fighting for quality of life issues, including work in 2010, which stopped a 150-foot monopole cell tower from being built at the Westfield National Guard Armory.
The town has also had success in moderating noise from passing trains, LoGrippo said.
“It’s the only place in the country where on an overpass a train whistle doesn’t blow,” he said.
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