A view of the Delaware River, by sachindaluja.
by Nancy Shukaitis and Scott Olson
As our nation searches for environmentally and economically feasible alternative methods of generating electricity – solar, wind, ocean tides, geothermal or biomass – it is unfortunate that coal has moved into first place for electricity generation.
This happened when the National Energy Policy Act and the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors became law, creating the vast, new Mid-Atlantic high voltage line corridor encompassing thirteen states – including all of New Jersey and 52 of 67 Pennsylvania counties.
Creation of this corridor does not consider alternative energy solutions – instead it facilitates use of dirty, coal-generated power by Eastern cities, defying calls for clean, renewable technologies. Power plants built great distances from population centers are contrary to good planning. Plants sited near demand centers – along with increased energy efficiency and conservation measures – are superior alternatives to long-distance transmission.
Costs for transmission projects in our corridor – estimated at 8 to 10 billion dollars and payable by ratepayers – come during stressful economic times, and when electricity use is actually decreasing.
Our local project – the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line – encourages additional coal-fired generation upwind of us, increasing pollution and adversely affecting local health. It cuts into forests and parks, degrades natural and residential areas including the Saw Creek community near Bushkill, Penn., the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and a dozen communities, from Hardwick to East Hanover, across northwest New Jersey.
The National Recreation Area was created – using eminent domain on thousands of private homes and properties – to restore the natural setting present prior to human settlement. Why? To create a natural oasis near metropolitan areas of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania for “the teeming masses” to access hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, fishing, mountain climbing, walking the Appalachian Trail, or just sitting on the river bank watching the free-flowing Delaware River.
Widespread tree-cutting will be required to construct 190-foot towers and power lines, as construction equipment will require multiple access roads through existing natural areas.
While the exact route is not determined, this project’s transmission lines would enter the Water Gap area in Pennsylvania, and cross the Wild and Scenic Delaware River into New Jersey near Walpack Bend. It would join the almost invisible 85-foot power line on Old Mine Road (our nation’s oldest, inland commercial road, qualifying for the Historic Register), before turning up the Kittatinny Ridge, creating a conspicuous scar on the landscape while crossing the scenic Appalachian Trail.
The American public paid millions for the National Recreation Area, and citizens’ rights are about to be trampled on. The proposed high voltage lines would drastically infringe upon the aesthetic, environmental, therapeutic, recreational, historic and educational values in this federally owned park, negatively impacting miles of natural viewscape.
The public’s investment in America’s largest eminent domain acquisition for public recreation – and continued investment in the National Park Service’s stewardship of this land trust since 1965 – enables millions of visitors to annually utilize the Delaware Water Gap, our nation’s 8th most visited park.
Destruction of land in the public trust is not justified – there are alternatives. We must demand that decision-makers place the public’s trust ahead of special interests’.
The timing and motives of the utility companies’ imposition of urban, industrial hardware on nature’s exquisite landscape is questionable. The Water Gap is stationary, while the high-voltage line’s siting is flexible – it can be selective and avoid seizing land in one of America’s great national treasures.
Ken Burns’ recent documentary “National Parks: America’s Best Idea” underscores that the National Parks are ours – they belong to all citizens. We have an obligation to speak on behalf of our parks, protecting them from incompatible intrusions. Future generations will be most grateful to us for this.
We must prevail upon every federal, state, county and local elected official in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to stop this travesty. Begin by e-mailing your opposition to this project to john_j_donahue [at] nps.gov or sending letters to John Donahue, Superintendent, DWGNRA, HQ River Rd off Route 209 Bushkill, PA 18324.
If our leaders don’t protect America’s heritage, who will?
Guest contributor Nancy Shukaitis was a founder of the Delaware Valley Conservation Association, a leader in the fight against the Tocks Island Dam project in the Delaware Water Gap during the 1960s. She lives in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Guest contributor Scott Olson is deputy mayor of Byram Township, New Jersey.