By Jay Cook
As costs mount, a citizens group passionately opposed to a controversial power line project proposed for eastern Monmouth County is supplementing its war chest with support from local business sponsors.
Currently, six business owners have contributed $10,000 total in financial support to the grassroots group Residents Against Giant Electric, otherwise known as RAGE to its thousands of members. RAGE leadership believes the total cost of the fight could exceed $300,000.
“Bills are coming in now,” said Terri Vilardi, a RAGE vice president. “It’s real and we’re in the middle of this, so we need to keep raising money.”
The issue at hand is a Jersey Central Power & Light Company (JCP&L) proposal for the Monmouth County Reliability Project, or MCRP for short.
If deemed permissible by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the MCRP would be a 230-kV high-voltage transmission line traveling for nearly 10 miles along the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line commuter rail right-of-way. The proposed line would begin at the NJ Transit substation in Aberdeen and end at another substation at the Red Bank stop, passing through Hazlet, Holmdel and Middletown along the way.
On Aug. 9, 2016, JCP&L filed a 671-page petition for the MCRP to the BPU, which was immediately forwarded to the OAL, where it currently stands.
After receiving 501(c) 4 status, RAGE has stayed afloat from funds donated by concerned residents. That money has gone towards small-scale items such lawn signs, T-shirts and car magnet stickers to big-money expenses, such as hiring their own lawyer, Peter Dickson.
When brainstorming new ideas to raise money, Vilardi and the RAGE board decided to tap into local businesses who either serve the af fected areas and/or have owners or employers who reside there as well.
For Gloria Woodward, president of Woodward Realty Group, this is her second go-around tackling a similar proposal.
“I happened to have been president of the Monmouth County Association of Realtors back in 1989 when this was an issue,” Woodward said, referring to a similar yet unsuccessful project proposed by JCP&L in the late 1980s. “As president of that organization, we were pretty involved in expressing our concern over it and fear for some of the damages that could be a result of that.”
Woodward reached out to RAGE a few months ago, lending support and a financial donation to help stop the project. As a Middletown resident, she felt that her support would go a long way considering costly legal fees.
With 2017 marking her 30th year in business, Woodward knows the local real estate market, and believes homes here will be affected if the MCRP goes through.
“Obviously you have to disclose – you can’t hide the potential issues,” she said. “It projects a negative impact on potential buyers to the community.”
Just across the new West Front Street bridge into Red Bank is another RAGE corporate sponsor, who looks out every morning onto the Navesink River.
“We own a piece of property at 54 Shrewsbury Ave., which is within 200 feet of the proposed power lines,” said Richard McOmber, a Red Bank lawyer at McOmber & McOmber. “We’re very sensitive to the damage that’s going to be done to our view-shed by poles 120 to 140 feet in height.”
After being alerted to the MCRP by a client of his, McOmber, who specializes in business and employment law, began personally researching and reading that August petition. On Sept. 6, he wrote a letter to the numerous parties and bureaus involved in this decision, and listed discrepancies he found throughout.
In the petition, JCP&L claimed there would be no diminution of property values, an assertion the lawyer disagrees with. McOmber also finds himself concerned with possible electromagnetic field health risks, which he believes could harm his staff.
The Red Bank lawyer says his building was constructed in 1980, and was done so after a long search he clearly remembers.
“When we were looking around for a building site, we looked at another municipality,” he said. “We found a perfect site – price, access, everything. There was only one problem – it was near high-tension power lines.”
Also a part of the RAGE corporate sponsorship is a landmark Middletown-area funeral home business, managed by a township resident.
“As a business in the community, we try to support our community as best we can,” says Evan Pfleger, manager of John F. Pfleger Funeral Home, Inc. “We’ve been here for 60 years, and it’s something that just came up.”
As a resident of the Historic Village section of Middletown of f Kings Highway, Pfleger says the train station is just down the street from his house. He walks his daughter to school every morning at Middletown Village Elementary – a walk he said he would come to despise if done under monopoles.
He said the possible health risks from electromagnetic fields worry him most, which is why he and his business are motivated to invest funds against the project.
“As an individual and a business owner, I am against the project, and I figured I could support it with a donation,” Pfleger said.
Hazlet Township businesses such as Blue Wave Auto Spa, Shore Point Funeral Home and Cremation Services, Inc. and Wine Academy Superstores are also backing RAGE.
The citizens’ group is dependent on the funds provided by concerned residents and businesses, a harsh reality for homeowners with mortgage payments and busy families buzzing between their kids activities.
“We’re going to fight the best we can, and if we run out of money, the fight’s over,” Vilardi said. “There’s nothing else we can do.”
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