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Suit Claims Feds Improperly Agreed to Susquehanna-Roseland Project

Environmental groups claim that mitigation money for power line was discussed before project’s approval.

By: Dan Gunderman |

More than a year before permits were issued for the Susquehanna-Roseland power-line project, the National Park Service, in a closed-off meeting, OK’d cutting across four miles of public Delaware Water Gap parklands, according to nj.com.

The 146-mile power line is slated to stretch across 45 miles of New Jersey, ending in Roseland. But environmentalists are up in arms, alleging that the federal agency improperly agreed to the project.

Ten environmental groups, in a federal lawsuit, say that officials were already in discussions over the mitigation money that would be required to compensate for environmental impacts in August 2011, when the project wasn’t officially approved until October 2012.

Proof of these early talks comes from the notes of a National Parks Service employee, brought forward through a Freedom of Information Act request, according to the nj.com report.

As the employee noted from an Aug. 4, 2011, meeting between federal officials and utility representatives, then-Secretary of the Interior, Kenneth Salazar, supposedly indicated that he wanted $60 million in mitigation money ‘now,’ according to the report.

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Delaware Riverkeeper, National Parks Conservation Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy filed the federal lawsuit in April. They claim that the meeting involving mitigation talks was improper and did not sufficiently ensure the welfare of the parklands.

In a response brief noted in the nj.com report, the National Parks Service said that it completed a three-year review of all the possible options for the project. What it decided upon, according to the NPS brief, was the least detrimental toward federal parklands.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved the project in 2010, but environmental groups challenged that measure in a state Appellate Court, whose ruling came down in February and allowed for the project’s continuation.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, told Patch in February that the power line is “unnecessary” and that the court did not consider all of the evidence.

“We are disappointed by the (February) court decision but not necessarily surprised,” he said. “This was a victory for dirty coal and air pollution over green jobs and clean air.”

Tittel also remained poised to continue the battle at the federal level, which now seems to be coming into fruition.

Kate Millsaps, a conservation program coordinator for the New Jersey Sierra Club, also spoke with Patch in February. “The people of New Jersey want clean energy solutions, not the expansion of an archaic line that will cost billions to bring in dirty coal-fired power,” she said.

However, with the stamp of approval the utility company (which is named as an intervener in the federal suit) needed, they carried on with construction.

A statement on their website, under the “Why is this new line needed?” section of their FAQ, reads:

“PJM Interconnection, the regional entity responsible for planning the transmission system, has determined that the power line is needed to ensure reliability of electricity supplies in our region. The process that PJM utilized to make this determination was approved by the federal government and was open and transparent.”

The new tubular steel poles being installed average around 184 feet tall, versus the previous 93-foot poles. The line will run through municipalities such as Montville, Kinnelon, Jefferson, Hopatcong, Boonton and Rockaway.

The upgrade will help “meet reliability requirements of the grid and ensure New Jersey’s and Pennsylvania’s economic growth,” according to the PSE&G website.