Federal parks officials OK NJ-Pa. power line

NEWARK, N.J. -- Final approval has been given for a new high-voltage power line that will run through the parkland spanning Pennsylvania and New Jersey on either side of the Delaware River, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Utility officials said the Susquehanna-Roseland line would double the capacity and the height of power lines. The project is necessary to avoid power problems that could result in brownouts or blackouts, according to the companies building the project, Public Service Electric and Gas Co. in New Jersey and PPL Electric Utilities in Pennsylvania.

The roughly $1 billion project would raise the lines' capacity from 230 kilovolts to 500 kilovolts and raise towers to as high as 190 feet tall. It will run through 16 municipalities in northwestern New Jersey, from Berwick, Pa., to Roseland.

In a joint statement, Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer of PSE&G, and Gregory N. Dudkin, president of PPL, said they expected the line to be in service by the summer of 2015.

"This new line will reinforce our nation's critical energy infrastructure for future generations," they said in the statement. "It will ensure that homes and businesses in a multistate region continue to enjoy safe and reliable electric service long into the future."

The utilities claim the new line will reduce electric bills for some customers, relieve congestion on the existing power grid and support 2,000 jobs.

Environmentalists, though, fear it will ruin views at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and keep coal-fired plants open by enabling them to sell power to East Coast customers.

"The Park Service compromised their integrity and violated their own mission which is to protect public lands, not give them away to utilities," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Tittel said his group planned to challenge the decision in court, adding, "If we allow PSEG and PPL to put this project in our national parks, they can construct polluting power lines anywhere like Yellowstone or Yosemite."

The utilities building the line said about 95 percent of the route will be built along an existing 85-year-old power line in need of replacement.

The National Park Service, which issued its approval for the project late Monday, will require the utilities to pay about $56 million in mitigation fees for the areas that will be impacted.

The agency says the fees are used to purchase or preserve land for public use, compensate for wetlands impacts, and fund cultural and historic preservation activities.