Transmission lines on national park land provoke challenge

Friday, February 3, 2012

A 145-mile high voltage transmission line upgrade connecting Pennsylvania and New Jersey is on a fast-track review process at the federal level, but a proposed route through the popular and scenic Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and other lands managed by the National Park Service is drawing opposition.

Last fall, nine federal agencies formed the Interagency Rapid Response Team for Transmission.  This group announced a coordinated federal policy decision to expedite the review process for 7 electric transmission lines across 12 states.  These pilot projects were selected based on the premise that, when built, they will help increase electric reliability, integrate new renewable energy into the grid, and save consumers money.

Of these fast-tracked projects, the one farthest along in development is a 500-kilovolt line proposed by PPL Electric Utilities and Public Service Electric and Gas Co. 's running from PPL's Susquehanna substation near Berwick, Pennsylvania to Roseland, New Jersey.  While the exact route of the line is not yet final, the utilities have requested a construction and right-of-way permit from the National Park Service for the expansion of an existing electric transmission line that crosses NPS lands within Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Three units of National Park Service lands would be affected by the project: the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area; the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and National Recreation Water Trail; and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Environmental and conservation activists have challenged any plan to route the line through national park lands.  The utilities propose to expand upon an existing right-of-way across these units which contains a single 230kV electric transmission line.  Existing towers would be replaced by new, taller tower structures.  The 230 kV line would be upgraded to carry 500 kV, and an additional 500 kV line would be added.  This work would also entail widening the existing right-of-way and constructing new access roads.  The utilities have offered a mitigation package that includes the conservation of thousands of acres of high-priority lands.  In addition, proponents say the line would save consumers more than $200 million each year in electric bills and create 2,000 jobs through construction.

The Park Service has released its draft environmental impact statement analyzing the project's impacts, and a final route is expected to be selected in March 2012. 

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