By JOHN T. WARD
Electrical utility JCP&L has failed to prove it needs a to build a controversial 10-mile long, high-voltage electricity transmission line that would end in Red Bank, a judge has ruled.
The decision, handed down Thursday, represents at least an interim victory for a grassroots effort led by homeowners to thwart the proposed $111 million project.
In her decision, administrative law Judge Gail Cookson found that JCP&L, a unit of Ohio-based First Energy, “has not met its burden of proof” that the 230-kilovolt line transmission line is necessary, the Asbury Park Press and the Two River Times reported.
The final decision on whether the plan, dubbed the Monmouth County Reliability Project, gets approved is in the hands of the state Board of Public Utilities, which can accept, modify or reject the judge’s decision, the Press reported.
In her decision, Cookson wrote that “the aesthetic, real estate, and environmental impacts” on the five communities through which the line would run “is overwhelming and is not offset by the interests of all JCP&L ratepayers, that is, the general public,” according to the Two River Times.
Here’s the decision: Judge Cookson Initial Decision 2018_03_08
JCP&L said in a statement that it disagreed with Cookson’s findings, and will review her decision before determining its next steps.
Residents living along the line’s proposed route along the North Jersey Coast Line rail tracks between Aberdeen and Red Bank argued that it would come with health threats, reduced property values and other problems. The plan revived a proposal abandoned by the utility 27 years ago in the face of public opposition.
Building monopoles up to 230 feet in height along the railroad right-of-way “is untried, untested and likely infeasible due to its narrow width, age, and proximity to residential communities,” Cookson wrote in her decision, according to the Press.
Already, two 23 kilovolt lines run along the route, but a third is needed to ensure “a stronger, modernized electrical system benefiting nearly 214,000 customers in Monmouth County,” the company said in support of the plan.
Homeowners along the line and other opponents organized under the aegis of Residents Against Giant Electricity (RAGE). They cited a range of concerns, including health effects from the electromagnetic fields created by the lines; the aesthetics of support pylons up to 210 feet tall; the impact on ratepayers and more.
Governing bodies in towns along the line, including Red Bank, passed resolutions opposing the line’s construction.
In a Facebook post, Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna called Cookson’s decision a victory against a project “that would have wrecked havoc on Red Bank, and other adjacent communities.”
“Now its up to us to continue the pressure on the Board of Public Utilities to stop corporate greed at the [expense] of quality of life,” he wrote.