Members of R.A.G.E. Fight JCP&L Pole Plan

By Brenda Flanagan

Hundreds of people from Monmouth County came out to a public hearing at Brookdale Community College to give their opinion and go on the record about a highly controversial, high-voltage power transmission line proposed by JCP&L. All the testimony is being gathered for an administrative law judge. The opposition has been very vocal.

“It will destroy Monmouth County — my family, my life, our health, our environment,” said Shari Martini.

Martini’s a member of R.A.G.E. — Residents Against Giant Electric. She lives along the railroad tracks in Middletown, where JCP&L wants to plant enormous poles to carry a new, 230 kilovolt electrical transmission line. She claims the construction zone will cut a swath more than 30 feet into her backyard.

“Which is going to remove my shed, my fire pit, my two rows of pine trees that are my only noise buffer from the train,” Martini said.

“It’s going to devastate many people’s lives, their homes, their peace and security, the value of their properties, their medical safety,” said Middletown resident Joan Klayton.

“This transmission line is going on an active railroad that already exists, that has homes directly on either side of it for 10 long miles. It’s going to be 10 feet from people’s private property, which is abnormally close. It introduces immense health and safety risks for the public and it really is something that should not be done,” said R.A.G.E. President Rachael Kanapka.

The power line would parallel NJ Transit’s North Jersey Coast tracks and JCP&L says using that right-of-way would actually minimize the new high-voltage line’s impact on the five towns along its proposed route, from Red Bank to Aberdeen. The utility claims it needs an upgraded line because its two current side-by-side electrical lines violate federal regulations.

“It is something that needs to be corrected. If there were a situation where one of those lines went out and we had this line in place, we’d easily be able to switch the power to bring those customers back in service,” said Ron Morano, senior public relations representative for FirstEnergy Corp. “Safety’s our number one priority in everything we do. We will follow all applicable federal, state and local safety codes in building the project.”

The new line could cost an estimated $110 million and serve 214,000 users. Ratepayers would eventually share the cost. But groups like R.A.G.E. aren’t on board for reasons that go beyond rate hikes. It’s spent $100,000 fighting JCP&L’s proposal.

“We think there are less costly, less invasive ways to fix the problem that don’t involve running a transmission line through 10 miles of densely populated neighborhoods,” Kanapka said.

The proposed monopoles that carry the power line could tower an average 140 feet high — going up to 210 feet. Residents fear one might fall.

“How will I be able to sell my house if I’m within that fall zone? I won’t,” said Middletown resident Christine Maiorana. “It would definitely trash my property value. I won’t be able to sell my house. It won’t have a property value.”

And then, there’s the voltage — 230 kilovolts emanating electromagnetic waves, or EMF. Controversy rages over whether that’s harmful to kids.

“The children will be subjected 24 hours a day without reprieve to possibly carcinogenic levels of EMF. They will live, sleep, play and go to school within this danger zone,” said Tara McGrath of Middletown.

“There’s more EMF that comes from the power lines on the street, next to your home, then will come from this power line,” Morano said.

The public hearing will go until about 11 p.m. if need be, but there’s a wrench in the works, so to speak. NJ Transit has not yet approved using its railway right of way for this project. They say they’re still studying the proposal. In the meantime, the administrative law judge is going to make a recommendation to New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities. It’s the BPU that gets the final call in this.