Preventing Future NYC/NJ Blackouts Will Cost Tens of Thousands of Trees

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A plan to help Northern NJ and NY avoid blackouts has run into a roadblock. (Published Friday, Aug 13, 2010)

    There is no final number yet, but biologists at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area now admit to NBCNewYork that tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut down if power companies get their way to expand a high voltage transmission line through the four mile wide park.

    In fact, whatever the final route picked for the major upgrade to the grid, that number seems likely to hold as the proposed right of way for the higher voltage line would expand from roughly a hundred feet to 300 feet as it runs through the upper Delaware River Valley to Roseland, N.J.

    "I find that rather disturbing. I think we need to keep nature as it is and preserve it as best we can," said kayaker Lisa Michaels, 44, a teacher from Scranton, Pennsylvania who was paddling for the first time on the Delaware one recent summer day.

    The preferred route runs through the heart of the 42 mile long unit of the National Park System as it expands an existing right of way that was built before the park was ever created.

    Transmission towers would soar as high as 195 feet, in many cases more than double the height of existing towers and much higher than the existing tree line.

    But it is the widening of the corridor, and the loss of those tens of thousand of trees, that are among the chief concerns of Park Service biologist Patrick Lynch.

    "There's very unique vegetation communities and as such these communities harbor many unique animal species," said Lynch as the Park Service embarks on a major Environmental Impact Study that will not be finished until October of 2012.

    That's when New Jersey-based PSE&G had hoped to finish the project at the direction of the grid operator, an obscure entity called PJM that is responsible for power supplies to 13 states and the District of Columbia.

    It was the East Coast blackout of 2003 that sent alarm bells ringing that the grid that distributes electricity was not up to the task of a modern day, 'electricity always on'(see: your phone chargers, iPads, computers, power hungry flat screen Tivo'd TV's and other conveniences) society.

    Federal energy law was changed, PJM ordered up a major upgrade of power to North Jersey which passes electricity on to New York City, and PSE&G and its Pennsylvania partner chose this route from coal and nuclear plants farther west in Pennsylvania.

    "The power line upgrade is needed to maintain the reliability of our region's electric system," said PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson in an email.

    But the Park Service is studying other routes that pretty much skirt all or most of the park.

    PSE&G is not impressed.

    "The alternative routes proposed by the Park Service will have significant environmental impacts outside of the Park," said PSE&G's Johnson in her email.

    But Superintendent John Donahue is worried that upgrading the existing line so that it becomes a 'critical' part of the grid will mean new access and roads in the middle of his wilderness.

    "The power company will have to be able to get in here 24/7, 365 days a year in any kind of weather conditions," Donahue said, in effect 'industrializing' a part of the largest national park wilderness area in the Northeast(and a Park Service unit that gets more visitors -- at 5.2 million a year--than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined).

    And that could add to the tens of thousands of trees already in line for clear cutting.

    All of which convinced the Park Service to do a full blown impact study that will, according to biologist Amanda Stein, look at "water quality, wetlands, scenic vistas, wildlife and soundscapes(the impact of 'crackling' high tension lines on animals and the human experience)."

    If the Park Service denies the permit, only the President or Congress could overturn it.

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY