By Jay Cook
After months of committee meetings, sit-downs with state officials and behind- closed-doors conversations, three local municipalities have taken the next step in opposition to a controversial Monmouth County utility project.
As of Oct. 1, the townships of Middletown, Hazlet and Holmdel have formed the “Municipal Consortium,” the name given to the towns pledging legal action against a Jersey Central Power & Light Company (JCP&L) proposal in the area, the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP).
Brought on to fight JCP&L in the legal spectrum are two firms: Bevan, Mosca & Guiditta, P.C. of Basking Ridge; and Maser Consulting P.A., which has a headquarters on Newman Springs Road in Middletown.
“We wanted a firm that had experience and knowledge of transmission lines, an engineering firm that understood that, had done some work certainly in other parts of the country and in the region here,” Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger said Tuesday evening.
A member of the former firm, Murray E. Bevan, Esq., has a body of relevant work that appealed to the consortium.
“Murray Bevan has experience, and I believe he actually worked for BPU previously, and has gone through similar cases in New Jersey prior,” Hazlet mayor Scott Aagre said Tuesday afternoon.
Scharfenberger also said that Maser Consulting P.A. and Middletown are familiar with one another as the two entities have worked together on Middletown’s geographic information systems.
The MCRP is a 10-mile-long, 230-kV transmission line that, if approved, would follow right along with the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line commuter line right-of-way from Aberdeen to Red Bank. It would also cut straight through Hazlet, Holmdel and Middletown as it currently is designed.
When initially announced, the MCRP was slated to cost $75 million, but when the utility filed its petition to the Board of Public Utilities on Aug. 9, that price tag rose to $111 million.
Utility spokesman Ron Morano said the project is currently pending before the Board of Public Utilities and the Office of Administrative Law. “The company will be responding to questions and comments about the case as part of that formal proceeding,” he said on Tuesday.
The MCRP is also dependent on the decisions of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and NJ Transit, which would have to grant JCP&L an easement to use its right- of-way.
Scharfenberger said he wanted to keep the cost of legal fees private, though he assured residents not only in Middletown, but throughout the affected areas, that the town- ships are on their side.
“We feel we’re going to do it in a cost-effective way and in a significant way, that we’re going to have a very substantial case.”
To date, Aberdeen and Red Bank have not formally joined the Municipal Consortium.
“There is a time schedule out there with applications and all, so I’m sure we’ll work out something with each of the towns,” said Aagre.
Despite some early bumps in the road, Scharfenberger believes that the amount of communication between the two remaining municipalities will prevail in the end.
“We’re working with the others, and we’ve been working all along,” he said. “We have a great relationship with each other, and that makes it a little bit easier.”
While the strategy of their argument against the project also will remain behind closed doors for the time being, Scharfenberger wanted to ensure residents that there is a plan.
“We discussed it amongst ourselves, and we thought this was the best way to do it,” he said. “We are going to be very specific in how we’re going to challenge it; we’re not just going to throw everything against the wall and hope that it sticks.”
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