Large crowd expected
Story and photos by Jay Cook |
LINCROFT – After thousands turned out in late January for the first public hearing on a proposed powerline project, the second hearing on the controversial issue scheduled for next week should have no shortage of emotion and discussion.
The subject is once again the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP), a nearly ten-mile long, 230 kV transmission line proposal by Jersey Central Power & Light Co. (JCP&L).
After the initial public hearing was held on Jan. 25 at Middletown High School North, the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), which is overseeing the case, scheduled a second hearing for Wednesday, March 29.
It is anticipated that people for and against the project will flock to the Robert J. Collins Arena at Brookdale Community College’s Lincroft campus, the venue for the hearing, to express their feelings on the project. The hearing starts at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m.
Judge Gail M. Cookson, who oversaw the first public hearing and will be the decision maker for the OAL on the matter, will again preside over the public hearing.
At the Jan. 25 hearing, elected officials from the municipal, county and state level, as well as union and local economy consortium leaders, spoke into the record with their thoughts on the project.
It wasn’t until 10:30 p.m. when residents got an opportunity to speak. There were so many people in attendance that prior to the first break, the overflow room in Middletown North’s cafeteria was filled to capacity. Many people did not even make it into the hearing, as traffic was substantially backed up in the vicinity around the high school.
“There were several thousand people at the first meeting,” said Patrick Mulligan, a spokesperson for the OAL. “There was not an ample amount of time to provide additional public comment, so that’s the reason why a second public hearing was calendared.”
As explained in the official petition, the MCRP would span nearly ten miles along the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line commuter rail right-of-way. Beginning at the Aberdeen substation, it would traverse through Hazlet, Holmdel, loop through Middletown at the Taylor Lane substation, and then terminate at the Red Bank substation.
The project was first announced by JCP&L on May 19, 2016, and property owners within 200 feet of the proposed line were given notice.
After a pair of open houses hosted by JCP&L, the utility filed the necessary petition to the Board of Public Utilities on August 9. That petition was immediately sent to the OAL, which provides “independent and neutral hearing,” according to its website. As part of the process, it is necessary to have at least one public hearing allotted.
JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano said, “The process allows for people that support the project, who did not get a chance to speak, to speak as well.”
Morano said that the utility company has been transparent about the project throughout the past ten months, answering questions from the public and the potentially affected municipalities.
“Our website it set up so people can find information, we’ve been responding to inquiries about the process,” he said. “Our transparency has been one of the things that we’ve been doing throughout, and will continue to do.”
According to Scott Humphreys, a supervisor of transmission siting for JCP&L’s parent company FirstEnergy, over 50 percent of Monmouth County would experience improved power service with the completion of this project. JCP&L serves 214,000 customers in the county.
While the utility company has been steadfast on the necessity of the MCRP, a resident’s citizens group called Residents Against Giant Electric, RAGE for short, says the project would be detrimental to their section of Monmouth County.
“These next two weeks are very critical because the public hearing is the chance we get for the public to really speak,” said Judy Musa, a spokesperson for RAGE. “We are looking to see a huge turnout to really show the judge the people in one room that are truly opposed to the project.”
RAGE has become very active on social media, reaching concerned homeowners and residents who either see the project as bad for the environment, harmful to their real estate values or who look at potential harmful health effects from electromagnetic fields from the transmission line.
While Musa noted that this is an emotional time for residents, she advised that if planning to attend, come with your “Sunday best” attitude.
“Be polite,” she said. “We know this is emotional, but we want to be respectful and express our opinions in a way that is positive.”
With the public hearing less than a week away, both RAGE and JCP&L are ramping up efforts to spread awareness for the project.
Consistent with their ground-game plan, RAGE has spread out its anti-powerline campaign to residents who are looking to raise funds from neighborhoods close in proximity to the potential corridor for the project.
Additionally, “we’re doing everything we did the last time, including using social media, flyers, neighborhood group meetings,” Musa said.
Musa said residents have seen petitioners, going door to door, gathering signatures for JCP&L in support of the project.
Morano confirmed those claims, saying “they do have shirts on that say ‘Volunteer for JCP&L,’ and they are carrying I.D. for the company that they’re working for.”
There is no timetable as to when the utility will finish that initiative, Morano said.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about the project that has been put out there,” he added. “We’re educating customers and allowing other voices to be heard about the project.”
The public hearing scheduled for March 29 is open to the public, and will begin at 5:30 p.m. The Robert J. Collins Arena is most easily accessible when entering Brookdale’s Lincroft Campus from the Phalanx Road entrance. The closest parking for the arena are Lots 5, 6 and 7, with the latter two being the closest.
Residents must sign in prior to entrance into the hearing, and may provide written statements along with verbal comments into the record. At the last public hearing there were no time limits for the speakers. Those written statements also can be submitted prior to the public hearing to the Clerk of the Office of Administrative Law, 33 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102.
This article was first published in the March 23-30, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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