February 15, 2012 —
Two electric companies are so willing to get the National Park Service (NPS) permit process moving forward that they are willing to offer $30 million in order to mitigate any loss that the NPS feels that it may experience.
PPL Utilities (PPL) and the Public Service Electric & Gas Company (PSE&G) want to construct a 101-mile electric line, which would replace an existing line stretching from Berwick, PA to Roseland, NJ.
The $510 million power line will carry much more electricity than the current line and consequently will have towers, reaching up to 200 feet high, higher than the existing towers, which range from 72 to 187 feet. The route traverses the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area (DWGNRA), the Middle Delaware National Scenic River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
The line will begin at the PPL nuclear plant in Berwick, PA and run 101 miles through parts of Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Wayne counties before crossing the Delaware at the PPL preferred site near Bushkill, PA and connecting with the PSE&G’s $570 million, 55-mile segment to Roseland, NJ.
In submitting their plan, the two companies will file their comments on the NPS Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
As part of the environmental review process, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the examination of mitigation for negative impacts that cannot be avoided. The companies admit that the proposed new line would cause significant adverse impacts to the national, scenic, cultural and recreational sources of the affected areas.
“We are following the NPS review process to the tee,” said Paul Wirth, spokesman for PPL. “We are offering them the $30 million as a mitigation offer, which would be monitored by a non-profit group. The park service could buy adjacent lands to make up for any loss they feel the project has caused. There are a number of adjacent lands that are available in the area that they could add to their park.”
Environmental and consumer groups oppose the project, questioning the need for the line and warning about potential environmental dangers. “We were expecting this,” Wirth said.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PPUC) and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) granted approval in 2010 for the route running through DWGNRA.
“We continue to believe the route that was approved by the PPUC was valid,” Wirth said.
It is expected that the Obama administration will put the project on a “fast track” to reduce the review period.
One group, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), contends that fast-track treatment leaves the project subject to a lawsuit brought under the NEPA.
“I am not aware of any danger of a lawsuit regarding NEPA,” Wirth said.
The NPS completed the public comment period last week. Their decision on a preferred route for the power line will be made in October, according to an NPS source.