Transmission-line corridors sprouting 200-foot-tall towers should not be permitted within the National Park System, according to a coalition of groups opposing such a corridor through Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River.
Permitting such a corridor "would mar the very scenery the National Park Service" is mandated to preserve, the groups said.
"We understand that the applicants currently have limited pre-existing rights to operate an 80-foot-tall powerline that predates the park’s establishment in 1965. However, as with all parks, the NPS is obligated to restore natural conditions whenever possible, not to allow existing impacts to worsen," said the coalition.
Signing the letter were Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Environment America, Environment New Jersey, Environment Virginia, PennEnvironment, Piedmont Environmental Council, The Wilderness Society, American Rivers, Sugarloaf Conservancy, Stop Path WV, West Virginia Citizens Against PATH, Energy Conservation Council of Pennsylvania, Sierra Club, and the National Parks Conservation Association.
The comments (the full letter is attached below) were provided during the "scoping period" on the project, a period during which the Park Service solicits public input on what should be considered as it develops an environmental impact statement on the transmission-line project. Under the proposal, PPL Electric Utilities Corporation and PSE&G would construct a 500 kV powerline from Susquehanna Power Station in Berwick, Pennsylvania, to Roseland, New Jersey, through the Water Gap, Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and the Appalachian Trail.
Park Service officials have said the request would necessitate widening the cleared area and the existing right-of-way and constructing access roads.
The groups said the project, if approved, would impact visitation to the three units of the park system, recreation, and wildlife.
Welcoming more than 5.2 million visitors per year, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is one of the most cherished units of the National Park System. Conveniently located just an hour and a half from the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area provides a special opportunity for park visitors to learn about the role of the National Park Service in preserving America’s shared natural and cultural heritage. Besides providing exceptional recreational opportunities for boaters and anglers who enjoy the free-flowing waters of the Delaware River, visitors head to the park to photograph and otherwise enjoy the park's spellbinding waterfalls and diverse wildlife, which include the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and black bear.
The park also serves as an inspiring outdoor classroom, library, and laboratory for school children in the region. In fact, almost 30,000 students visited the park in 2009. During the summer, the park welcomes children attending nearby camps including the No-Be-Bo-Sco Boy Scouts of America camp, the Ralph Mason YMCA camp, and the Happiness is Camping Camp for children with cancer. Approximately 24,000 people visit the Pocono Environmental Education Center in the park every year.
In developing the EIS, the NPS should closely examine how educational opportunities and the interpretation of park resources would be affected by construction activities and the presence of massive new transmission infrastructure.
The NPS also needs to consider how the project may impact overall visitation. According to a 2004 study by the University of North Carolina—Asheville Department of Economics, visitation to national parks is affected by the quality of scenic vistas. The study was conducted with the cooperation of the Park Service-managed Blue Ridge Parkway unit, and found that respondents "indicated that the scenic quality along the Parkway is an important reason for their visitation. They indicated they would take fewer trips if scenic quality declines, and would make more trips with scenic quality improvements."
The Park Service hopes to have a draft EIS by summer 2011, with a final EIS and record of decision in Spring 2012. You can find more details on the project at this site. Be sure to click on the "Document List" for additional materials.