Story and photos by Jay Cook
HAZLET – At a meeting attended by more than 600 people, leaders of 11 towns declared opposition to a $75 million power line proposal, citing concerns about health risks, aesthetics and property values.
Jersey Central Power and Light Company recently announced it wants to install a new 230-kilovolt transmission line beginning in Aberdeen, then traveling through Hazlet, Holmdel, Middletown and ending in Red Bank. It would span about 10 miles along the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line commuter railroad right-of-way. The monopoles would hold the transmission lines and could reach 170 feet in height.
“This is a true bipartisan effort to beat the big conglomerate here,” said Aberdeen Mayor Fred Tagliarini at the Tuesday night meeting.
The meeting at Hazlet’s recreation center was organized by state Assemblywoman Amy Handlin who announced she is proposing legislation to prohibit transmission lines within 100 feet of any dwelling or building.
“This would apply to residential, commercial, public and private property,” she said of the bill, which is modeled off a law in Iowa, considered to be the most restrictive of its kind in the nation.
The bill is still in its infant stages as its continues to be drafted. The whole process could take a couple weeks, according to Handlin’s office.
Aside from Tagliarini, in attendance were Hazlet Mayor Scott Aagre, Holmdel Mayor Eric Hinds and Middletown Committeeman Kevin Settembrino.
Hazlet Police Lt. Scott Mura said the room capacity of 660 people was nearly reached.
No JCP&L officials attended the meeting, said company spokesperson Ron Morano.
“JCP&L is committed to transparency and open communication throughout this process,” he told the Two River Times in an email Wednesday. “Our outreach about the project has included three open house meetings that allowed us to provide information and exchange in productive dialogue with residents in a face-to-face setting.”
A letter signed by the mayors opposing the project, addressed to Anthony Hurley, JCP&L vice president of operations, was read aloud by Mayor Aagre. It talked about the mayors’ concerns about “aesthetic degradation” and “unclear demonstration for the need of the project” along with health risks for residents, sinking property values and the impact to historical districts around the proposed area.
It also carried the signatures of the mayors of Atlantic Highlands, Highlands, Keansburg, Keyport, Matawan, Red Bank and Union Beach.
“This is a great sign that we have all 11 towns in the area supporting the five that are directly affected,” Aagre said during the meeting.
Handlin, who was a vocal opponent to a similar JCP&L proposition back in 1989, has been regularly attending meetings against the Monmouth County Reliability Project, as it is formally known.
During the meeting, she delivered a presentation how Montville, Morris County, fought back a JCP&L proposal. She noted that while the projects are not alike and the outcomes may in fact be different, this area could learn from the process Montville had gone through.
Handlin also highlighted more than 30 questions that Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE) put together for the meeting.
RAGE, which started out as a simple Facebook page for residents in the affected areas to speak out, has grown into a much larger entity. Now sporting its own website, StopJCPL.org, the group plans to keep growing.
“We’re in the process of incorporating right now and forming a non-profit,” said Steve Lunanuova, who has assumed the role of treasurer for the group. He predicts that in the next week RAGE will be incorporated. However, the route to becoming a non-profit organization takes more time, but Lunanuova says RAGE is looking into an expedited process.
RAGE is depending on its supporters to promote their cause. With stations at two tables for the June 28 meeting, the group was selling t-shirts for $15 along with car magnets and lawn signs, both for $5 apiece. By the end of the meeting, the lawn signs were sold out.
Beyond that, “there’s a GoFundMe page; people have given straight donations,” Lunanuova said. “The sales today will cover the cost of all the merchandise we purchased, and then some.”
RAGE’s following has grown significantly since its inception, which was around Memorial Day weekend, according to Judy Musa, who handles public relations for the anti-JCP&L group. RAGE hosted a meeting on June 22 at the Middletown Public Library, which brought in around 340 residents. “Certainly the vast majority are from Middletown or Red Bank,” Musa said.
While RAGE took the reins on the public side, Hazlet Township was the first of the five affected areas to host a special meeting about the MCRP.
On June 20, both the Hazlet Township committee and Hazlet Board of Education voted to unanimously pass resolutions expressing concern about the JCP&L proposition, the first municipality to officially do so at that time.
In what was an open-forum style meeting, about 150 Hazlet and Middletown residents attended, while roughly 40 or so spoke on the record to the town council. Among the many speakers, the most emotional testimony came from Middletown homeowner Bernice Curto.
“We are literally sick over this process,” Curto said, as tears streamed down her face.
She referred towards the area of Route 1 in Woodbridge as a comparison to what the Bayshore community would soon look like, and said that “you won’t believe your eyes. These are not meant for residential areas.”
Brian Christian, who lives within earshot of the rail line in Hazlet, was skeptical as to why this project is necessary.
“I think they should find an alternate route, or build a substation in Red Bank instead of trying to take power from that one (Aberdeen),” said Christian, an electrician of 15 years. “Just like a generator onto the grid that can put out more power instead of dragging it from down the line.”
Hazlet Committeewoman Barbara Ronchetti, who spoke out against the MCRP throughout the meeting, brought attention to other potential corridors for the project.
“They had their engineers do a study of 17 routes, and they eliminated 16 of them,” she said afterwards. “But we don’t know where the 16 that were eliminated are. We need to get copies of those other ones.”
Reached by phone, Morano said, “They were talking about the site selection process. There were 17 areas that they looked at, that’s what that means,” he said. “Not specific routes for the project; necessarily as ways to do this.”
He also dispelled the conception that the wires could be placed underground.
“There are a number of environmental concerns when undergrounding a line,” said Morano. “You have to literally disrupt the environment seriously to put a line like this underground.” He also noted that this method would cost possibly four to ten times more.
Holmdel Township is the next of the affected municipalities to host a special meeting on the MCRP, which will be on July 6 at the Holmdel Township Town Hall at 7:00 p.m.
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