NPS Proposes To Allow Massive Power Line Through Delaware Water Gap NRA, Draws Quick Condemnation

A proposal by the Obama administration to run a massive power transmission line across the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and through Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area drew quick condemnation Thursday from the National Parks Conservation Association.

“Today’s announcement by the Obama administration of the National Park Service’s 'preferred alternative' to allow massive 200-foot towers and power lines across the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic River, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in New Jersey and Pennsylvania is extraordinarily disappointing," said Ron Tipton, NPCA's senior vice president for policy.

Pennsylvania Power and Light Electric Utilities and Public Service Electric and Gas Company have wanted to replace an existing 230kV transmission line through park lands with a double circuit transmission line carrying a new 500kV line.

On Thursday the Park Service, after reviewing agency and public comments made during a 60-day comment period, came down in favor of that request, although a final decision has yet to be made.

“In identifying the preferred alternative, we closely examined the existing easements owned by the utilities, the impacts of the proposed transmission line, alternatives to the proposal, and mitigation measures to avoid and minimize adverse impacts to park resources,” said Dennis Reidenback, the Park Service's Northeast regional director.

The identification of the preferred alternative is not a final decision, Park Service officials noted. The agency still needs to make a final decision on the construction and right-of-way permit application in a Record of Decision that will be issued no sooner than 30 days following the public release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected in September.

"Robust" mitigation analysis will occur throughout the remaining parts of the process, the agency said. Additionally, the NPS is consulting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which shares some boundaries with the NPS in the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and with tribal governments and State Historic Preservation Offices.

Back at the NPCA, Mr. Tipton said final approval of the project would "harm visitors' experiences to the parks."

“The public utilities, PSE&G and PPL, have stated that they would purchase sensitive lands surrounding the parks as mitigation for the damage from massive power lines through the mid-section of one of the 10 most visited national park sites in the country," he said in a prepared statement. "This development can only harm visitors’ experience to the parks, many of whom travel from nearby densely populated urban areas seeking inspiring views and outstanding recreational opportunities, and puts economic benefits that the parks provide to local communities at risk as well.

“It is unfortunate that the Obama Administration is not considering other proven alternative technologies, such as superconductor pipe lines or advanced cable technologies to avoid the impairment of park resources," he went on. "Investing in alternative technologies could potentially improve park viewsheds.

"Since PSE&G and PPL are willing to spend millions of dollars on surrounding lands to mitigate the impacts that their power lines will cause through three national parks, it makes no sense for the NPS and the utility companies to not consider mitigating the direct impact itself. We believe today’s proposal would clearly violate the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916, which mandates the agency to 'conserve the scenery' from impairment."

According to the Park Service, the Susquehanna-Roseland power line proposal includes the replacement of an existing transmission line with an approximately 145-mile long 500 kV transmission line from the Susquehanna Substation in Pennsylvania to the Roseland Substation in New Jersey, and several 500 – 230 kV substations in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In March 2009, PPL and PSE&G submitted a complete application to the NPS for construction and right-of-way permits, which would be needed in addition to their existing easements, for where the line crosses three units of the National Park System; Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The proposed Susquehanna-Roseland project is one of seven pilot transmission line projects identified as part of President Obama’s Rapid Response Team for Transmission. The RRTT is examining the seven pilot projects to capture lessons learned and best practices regarding transmission permitting and siting processes in order to improve efficiencies and communication among federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies on current and future projects.

The RRTT is not tasked with conducting the substantive environmental review of any project.

Mr. Tipton of the NPCA said final approval of the project would set a dangerous precedent.

“America’s national parks are treasured places and we need to keep them that way. If the NPS allows 200-foot power lines to degrade these three park sites, what parks will be next?," he asked. "We encourage the administration to avoid America’s national parks when siting transmission lines – this will ensure future generations can enjoy national parks as visitors do today. Meeting energy needs is an important priority, but not at the expense of our national parks.”