By JOHN T. WARD
Plans for a 10-mile long, high-voltage electricity transmission line terminating in Red Bank drew dozens of concerned residents to an information session in Lincroft Tuesday night.
Dubbed the Monmouth County Reliability Project, the 230-kilovolt transmission line is needed to keep pace with demand for electricity, according to Jersey Central Power & Light.
But residents living along its path — the existing New Jersey Transit right-of-way between existing substations in Aberdeen and Red Bank — said they fear it will have harmful health effects and reduce home values.
JCP&L, owned by First Energy Corporation, based in Ohio, contends the additional transmission capacity will help reduce the length and frequency of service disruptions.
Dubbed the “Monmouth County Reliability Project,” the $75 million plan requires approval by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection.
JCP&L tried in the early 1990s to construct a similar line, but abandoned the plan in the face of public opposition.
Tuesday’s night’s two-hour event, held at Brookdale Community College, was the first opportunity for residents to learn more about the plan since it was revived last month.
But attendees complained that the event was hard to find on the sprawling campus, where no signage to the the presentation was posted. On arrival at the Student Life Center, they entered a large room in which dozens of easel displays were mounted, with company representatives standing at each to field questions.
With no formal presentation or moderated question-and-answer, the event struck several Middletown residents as haphazard and unpersuasive.
Ron Miller, of Hialeah Place, said the event “seemed like a meeting JCP&L just threw together for the sake of having a meeting. It just didn’t seem like they were as concerned about informing you as being able to say, ‘look, we did a public meeting.'”
Among the topics of concern expressed were those surrounding the purported health effects of exposure to the electromagnetic fields generated by the transmission lines.
Shane Formica of Johnny Court in Middletown challenged Kyle King, a JCP&L consultant present to field questions, on the reach and impact of the electromagnetic fields, which he has previously testified “do not pose any recognized long-term health risks.”
Countering King, Formica said “plenty of studies” show that children under 12 who live close to high-voltage lines are adversely affected by the fields, with higher incidences of leukemia and neurological damage.
“They could bury these lines quite easily along the right-of-way,” Formica told redbankgreen. “The cost might be higher, but the cost to the environment and to the people who live along the tracks is probably going to be less in the long run.”
State Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon said he came out to learn more about the plan and resident concerns.
“We do need more power into the area, no question,” he told redbankgreen. “The question is how do you get more power with the least-impactful way to our residents?”
But on the health issue, O’Scanlon, who works in the wireless telecom industry, said he’s persuaded the threats are unproven.
“I believe that we definitively know that power lines do not cause health issues,” he said. “I know people disagree with that, and I might get a lot of grief for saying it. But I’ve spent a lot of time studying this stuff. People have been around radio frequency emissions for more than a hundred years now, and no one has been able to show any correlation, legitimately, in a peer-reviewed, unbiased study. If there were health effects, I think we’d know.”
Other concerns included the aesthetics of 140-foot pylons on which the line would be mounted, and the anticipated adverse impact on property values.
“It’s not their money they’re spending. It’s our money,” said John Patterson, who lives “one house from the track” in the River Plaza section of Middletown. “But if you cut the demand, you don’t have to have the supply.”
He said JCP&L could attain the same goals, with better environmental and health results, if it simply spent $75 million on an LED lightbulb giveaway or investments in solar power.
A formal proposal will be filed with the BPU shortly, a company spokesman said, and no hearing dates have yet been scheduled.