NEW JERSEY & PENNSYLVANIA — In a major win for two utilities that want to build a $510 million power line, the National Park Service (NPS) has backed a route that would take the line through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
There is an existing power line through the park lands and the utilities, PPL Utilities (PPL) and the Public Service Electric & Gas Company (PSE&G), want to increase the amount of power in the line, and construct new towers, which will rise to 200 feet; the existing towers range from 72 feet to 187 feet.
On March 29, NPS issued the decision that the “preferred route” for the line was the one through the park lands. This is not the final decision on the matter, which will come in the fall, but the designation of preferred route makes it much more likely that this will be the final route.
Executives at the two utilities were pleased with the development. “We commend the National Park Service for its very thorough review, and for concluding that our proposed route provides the most appropriate balance of meeting society’s energy needs while minimizing impacts to federal lands,” said Gregory N. Dudkin, president of PPL Electric Utilities, and Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer of PSE&G, in a joint statement.
As part of an effort to mitigate any negative impacts on the park lands, the two companies have promised to spend millions of dollars to purchase or preserve thousands of acres of land adjacent to the park lands. The statement said, “The total value of the package will depend on the final assessment of impacts by the park service, but the utilities’ current estimate is that the cost would be $30 million to $40 million.”
That did not satisfy the National Parks Conservation Association, which issued a statement by vice president Ron Tipton. It said, “This development can only harm visitors’ experience to the parks, many of whom travel from nearby densely populated urban areas seeking inspiring views and outstanding recreational opportunities, and puts economic benefits that the parks provide to local communities at risk as well… America’s national parks are treasured places and we need to keep them that way. If the NPS allows 200-foot power lines to degrade these three park sites, what parks will be next?”
The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club attacked the Obama Administration, which has oversight of the Department of the Interior, over the decision. Jeff Tittel, director of the organization said, “Today, the Obama administration sold out our national parks. Lands that are supposed to be protected for future generations, they turned over to power companies. This is a shameful day in the long history of our parks and may set precedent for more gas and power lines through our parks. This decision is an insult to the more than five million people that visit the Water Gap every year. We will continue fighting this project even in the courts if necessary. We will stand up for the integrity of our national parks even if the Department of Interior will not.”