Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger, Deputy Mayor Stephanie Murray and members of the Township Committee attended the Jan. 25 public hearing on the proposed JCP&L power line project (Monmouth County Reliability Project). Deputy Mayor Murray made a public statement on behalf of the governing body during the hearing. The content of the statement is available here by video and text.
Public Hearing Statement
Good evening Your Honor,
I am Stephanie Murray, the Deputy Mayor of Middletown. Tonight I speak on behalf of our Mayor and my colleagues on the governing body. As representatives of one of the largest townships in NJ, with a population of approximately 67,000 residents, the JCP&L project as proposed has been largely rejected by our community. There will be many adverse impacts on our town and surrounding municipalities, all of which you will hear about tonight- all of these impacts which will far negate any possible benefit that might be realized by this project. We are here to implore you not to allow this ten mile scar across five towns to irreparably mar our communities.
The issues raised are numerous, including safety, declining property values, and the dubious conclusions of resiliency and need, as well as health concerns. Tonight I will focus on other points due to time constraints, and rely on our hundreds of capable residents directly affected to better explain how this project will personally devastate us.
This project, in its proposed state, will cause irreversible damage to Middletown’s collective historic, cultural, and natural resources.
The Middletown Historic Village, literally beside the train tracks, is a heart of our community. A significant section of the proposed power line will run right through it. The Middletown Village is one of- if not the- oldest settlements in New Jersey and in America- dating back to 1613. For over 400 years, this area has been preserved and regarded as a historic beacon for generations of people interested in American history. The historic district is on the National Register, is the location of several historic cemeteries, and is the site of our 350 year time capsule and monument. JCP&L cannot build through this area without a permit from SHPO.
The very same area hosts our Arts center- a major hub of community activity for not only the adults of our community, but predominantly the children. Additionally, this is location of the site of our World Trade Center Memorial Gardens, where we honor our 37 residents lost in the 9/11 attacks.
Further down along the very same tracks, the lines will pass directly alongside the Poricy Park nature preserve, 250 acres of untouched forest and Mesozoic era fossil beds, and coincidentally, the location of yet another building on the Historic Register.
These locations, unique, rare, and irreplaceable, will literally be in the shadows of the proposed monstrous towers. The NJ transit line was never meant to be a utility right of way, thus ensuring the protection of our historically intact, cultural and natural resources. Simply put, the close proximity of these towers, will destroy all of the sites I have just described, because impact is impossible to mitigate.
Most importantly, JCP&L does NOT have the legal rights to the property in order to build this project from at least two separate entities. First, they do not have the permission or an agreement to use the NJ Transit right of way. Second, no real estate agreement exists with the United States Navy. The procedure to acquiring rights from Naval Weapon Station Earle due to NEPA takes approximately 6 months to a year, requires environmental studies, and would require a public comment process.
In the meantime, families have been contributing their hard earned money and towns like ours are allocating tax payer funds to fight what is technically a theoretical project. In short, JCP&L has applied for a project which, to this day, it does not possess the rights or permissions to complete. The towns have petitioned for the dismissal legally on these grounds. As you know, the OAL’s own rate counsel concurs with this assertion, and goes even further by assessing that JCP&L did not do their due diligence with respect to fully exploring other options, nor have they proved the need for such a project.
Everyone here tonight knows this project will need to be paid for. It is very likely that the people in this very room will be paying for it through increased rates. In other words, the people who oppose this project will be footing the bill to ruin their own communities.
In conclusion, most would agree there is a need to make the power infrastructure more resilient, particularly post Superstorm Sandy. However, those improvements should not come at the price of harming the community the utility is serving. With a project as extreme as this, with such sensitive factors to consider, it would only make sense that a safer, less intrusive alternative be sought. As citizens, we rely on this very legal process involved with matters such as this to protect us from adverse impacts from utilities, and we are counting on you and the state of New Jersey to see the merits of our arguments. We respectfully ask your honor to dismiss or deny the current proposal as the project is not legally viable at this time.
My colleagues and I remain hopeful that an alternative proposal can be found and JCP&L can continue to provide service in a reliable manner without harming the customers and towns which they serve, in particular the many families who will be devastated in the wake of this project.
Thank you for time and consideration.
Stephanie C. Murray