By Jay Cook
“It’s a money grab project that puts the interests of JCP&L over the residents and ratepayers of Monmouth County.”
These are the words of former NJ Transit vice chairman Bruce Meisel, who spoke with The Two River Times on Tuesday about his concerns regarding the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP), a proposal by Jersey Central Power & Light Co. (JCP&L).
Since announcing his decision to step down from the NJ Transit Board of Directors on Dec. 14, Meisel has been steadfast in his disapproval of the MCRP, saying that he now “has no oar in the water here.”
As currently stated in the MCRP’s official petition, the $111 million proposal would be a 230-kV transmission line spanning nearly 10 miles of the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line commuter rail right-of-way. The line would begin in Aberdeen and traverse through Hazlet, Holmdel and Middletown before ending in Red Bank.
The petition was filed to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) on Aug. 9, and was immediately sent over to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). The OAL is anticipated to make a decision on the project later this year, which will serve as a recommendation for the BPU to follow. Between April 4 and 11, a series of six evidentiary hearings for the project will be held at OAL offices in Newark.
Superseding that, though, would be a decision made by NJ Transit. Since the project would be on their right-of-way, they could either not make a decision, or vote no and disallow the project, stopping it dead in its tracks.
Meisel questioned what NJ Transit’s rationale would be for approving the project. “This would just piss people off, and those people are their customers.”
JCP&L has been consistent on the project’s need, which stems from a decision made by PJM Interconnection, a regional grid operator that oversees 13 states and the District of Columbia – New Jersey being one of those 13. PJM has stated that a 2011 review found that Monmouth County’s electrical system violates reliability criteria.
If completed, JCP&L says the project will benefit the electrical reliability service for 214,000 customers in Monmouth County.
On Nov. 28, Meisel, a Bergen County resident, was one of three NJ Transit Board members who took a site tour of the five affected towns along the proposed corridor. Led by Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-NJ), the board members met with local, county and state government officials at each site, and spoke with concerned residents who live along the tracks.
What struck him most were the number of signs and the people opposing the project across the area.
“The residents are getting no value on the need side, and are going to end up paying for a project that will substantially diminish property values along the entire right-of-way,” Meisel said.
At the Dec. 14 NJ Transit Board of Directors meeting, where Meisel later would step down, he took the floor, and gave a harsh decree, offering his personal stance regarding the MCRP.
“This is the most unworthy project that I have seen in my entire history of practicing law,” he said.
Meisel was also a guest on “Jersey Matters,” which airs on the WJLP television station owned by PMCM-TV LLC, based in Wall Township. On a Feb. 13 episode, Meisel continued with the theme, saying that due to minimal power outages over the last decade, the project does not make sense. (See video.)
JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano rebuked Meisel’s claims in the “Jersey Matters” broadcast.
“I think it’s fair to say the broadcast contained numerous inaccuracies from the number of poles, the height of the poles and the project’s needs,” he said.
Morano also commented about the project being categorized as a “money grab,” saying that is simply not true.
“The need for the project is driven by local reliability concerns identified by PJM,” he said. “New Jersey imports far more electricity than it produces, and New Jersey consumes significant amounts of electricity and has few power plants, so it’s extremely rare for power on the local grid to flow out of the region.”
Regarding the petition process for the MCRP, it seems that there will in fact be a second public hearing, orchestrated again by OAL Judge Gail M. Cookson. She oversaw the first public hearing on Jan. 25 at Middletown High School North, where it was estimated nearly 2,000 residents from around Monmouth County showed up to voice their concerns. (See story.)
The majority of the testimony provided that night were comments from elected officials from all levels of government who spoke out against the MCRP.
According to Patrick Mulligan, public information officer at the OAL, a second public hearing is in the works, though a deal still needs to be hashed out on the location and dates. As of Feb. 17, Mulligan said the Robert J. Collins Arena at Brookdale Community College’s Lincroft campus is the likely choice, with tentative dates of either March 28 or 29.
According to the community college’s website, the Collins Arena has a capacity of 2,000 for large-scale events. Outside of basketball games, the venue is commonly used for graduations.
JCP&L and BPU did not comment on the potential second public hearing.
It will also serve a coup for the residents along the line who have fought this project tooth and nail. On June 7, JCP&L held the first of three public open houses, in an effort to educate residents about the need of the MCRP.
Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE), a citizens’ action group, says the next hearing is much appreciated.
“We’re certainly very happy that the judge heard us saying that we wanted another public hearing,” said Judy Musa, spokeswoman for RAGE.
Musa also mentioned that while it was great to hear from all the elected officials against the project at the first public meeting, this second one will give homeowners and residents the chance to speak up.
She also hopes Judge Cookson will follow Meisel’s steps, both literally and figuratively.
“We hope that the judge will take the opportunity to visit the site,” Musa said. “Once you see the community, you’ll understand why there is so much opposition to this project.”
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