“Those electric fields will come down from the top of those towers …” he draws his hands down in a sharp cone shape, from the point at the tip of the cone to the wide base. “I don’t know.”
After a lifetime of living in the shadow of a high-tension power line, a project to replace the existing line with a taller, more powerful one has Pascoe pondering the changes in his life and his neighborhood; has him pondering about the possibility of a cancer cluster, about property values, loss of retirement income from property now unusable, and the ability to enjoy a lifestyle he has known.
The towers are part of the $1.3 billion Susquehanna-Roseland electric reliability project started by Public Service Electric & Gas Co. of New Jersey and PPL Electric Utilities of Pennsylvania.
The project calls for the replacement of an existing 230-kilovolt line and the addition of a 500-kilovolt line which will be supported by new 183-foot towers designed to replace existing 80-foot towers.
The New Jersey portion of the line will cross 45 miles of an existing right-of-way that crosses 16 towns, and in the middle of the 5.5-mile Hopatcong section that cuts through Jefferson, it passes within 100 feet of Harry Pascoe’s property.
What is to come is evident: Four large concrete pillars that will support a new tower have been poured and rest in the middle of the right-of-way, flanked on either side by single family homes.
Harry Pascoe’s Weldon Road neighborhood was once the local center of an extensive iron mining industry marked by the Hurd Mine, one of the New Jersey’s most successful, and other operations run by the proprietors of Northwest Jersey’s famed iron industry.
Nearby Hurdtown and Woodport once bustled with businesses and activities driven by the mine operation.
Today, the old mining remains are largely unseen, hidden as the forests, cut to fuel iron furnaces, have grown back, and their lands have been incorporated in large public parks and land preserves. Weldon Road, like many of Jefferson’s sections has settled into a quiet rural section of the state.
In 1928, the utility company, Public Service Electric & Gas Co., built a high-tension power line through the area, a section of a line that runs from Berwick, Pa. to Roseland in Eastern Jersey. When it was built, the power line ran through the old Duffy farm, and the power company obtained a right-of-way from the owners.
In 1947, Pascoe’s father, Charles E. Pascoe, acquired the Duffy farm, and with it, “the right to use and enjoy the right-of-way land,” the deed says, according to Harry Pacsoe.
In law, a right-of-way is a type of property easement that allows a person to use another’s land for travel or another benefit. The owner of the land keeps the benefits and privileges as the property owner, while granting the other person certain permissions on the property.
A utility easement usually provides the utility company access to the property for maintenance or repairs of the service lines.
With the deed as a guide, Pasco said, his father sought and was granted a township license to operate a junk yard on the right-of-way and Pascoe’s Junkyard was founded.
That land is the only piece of private property in Jefferson within the utility right-of-way, he said.
His father ran the business until 1966, when he died, Pascoe said. Then he and his mother, Edna, ran the business for a while, and then he and his sister did so until 2010, when Harry Pascoe developed cancer.
They leased the business to Valley Auto Wreckers, which used the property to store cars, boats and trucks.
The junkyard is now gone, Pascoe said.
PSE&G ordered in June that the property be cleared of “abandoned vehicles, boats, trailers, mobile home trailers and a conex box on your property that encroach on the PSE&G electric transmission right-of-way,” according to a June 1 letter from Richard A. Franklin, manager of corporate properties.
The power company also sought the removal of a chain-link fence and any other material that would impede in the right-of-way.
While the company did not return several telephone calls seeking comments, their letters to Pascoe – mostly announcements of regulatory decisions and start dates of certain work–provide a view that show they term many of the disruptions to the rights-of-way as temporary actions that will be restored and mitigated once the construction is completed. New Jersey law requires generally that environmental restoration take place.
Pascoe said he evicted Valley Auto Wreckers, rather than allow PSE&G to remove the goods, and with the inability to meet the requirements of the township’s junk dealer’s ordinance, “We are out of business after 55 years.”
The phrase that sticks in Pascoe’s throat: “On your property.”
With the closing of the junk yard, Pasco said, he has lost the ability to control what happens on his own property. His calls for some sort of compensation for the loss of the use of the property and the income derived by that use have not been answered.
“It is sad to say that after all the years we used our property, and all the time and hard work, someone could just take it away,” he said.
The Susquehanna-Roseland reliability project is planned to meet future electric power demands, PSE&G said. The project is expected to be completed in 2015.
PJM Interconnection, LLC, a regional entity that oversees the planning for electric transmission lines, said the electric demand is expected to grow about 4,000 megawatts in the next 10 years.
PSE&G also recently touted the project to state officials as a key way to increase the reliability of the power grid, battered by two years of record storms.
The project has approvals from utility regulators in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the National Park Service, which operates the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and the New Jersey Highlands Council.
The project has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, including those filed last week to stop the project being built through the Water Gap. Plaintiffs in that lawsuit claimed the power line would damage the views seen in the Water Gap and harm the wildlife in the recreation area. The power companies previously agreed to pay $56 million to support mitigation of wetlands losses, purchase land for public use and to support cultural and historic preservation efforts.
The power company also reached agreements with numerous towns along the route to cover the cost of mitigating any land damage done during the construction of the new power line. Jefferson, like many towns, will receive $350,000 to cover such costs in exchange for giving up its right to oppose the project unless the project changes in a way that creates an unknown financial impact for Jefferson.
One basis for the lawsuits was the assertion that the construction of the new line would support Midwestern plants that primarily burn coal as fuel to generate electricity, adding to the potential for more air pollutants blowing east into New Jersey.
Recent reports indicate that electric generators use a mix of fuels during the year, and that lower-priced natural gas is being used more regularly to replace coal as a fuel.
An October report from the U.S Energy Information Administration said that in August, coal produced 39 percent of the nation’s electricity, up from a low in April of 32 percent. In April electricity produced from natural gas equaled that of coal.
The report said increased demand in the summer increased the use of both fuels, however, “the August coal share of generation is notably lower than the 50 percent annual average over the 1999 to 2010 period.”
The USEIA report said that overall, the fuel used by generators is price and seasonally sensitive.
A report by think tank New Jersey Future said that in 2009, coal produced 8.2 percent of New Jersey’s electricity. The leading producer was nuclear power at 55.4 percent, followed by natural gas, at 33.3 percent. Renewables like solar or wind power generated 1.5 percent of the state’s electricity.
Harry Pascoe tries to image a 183-foot tall electric tower looming over his home. The designs show the towers will extend several arms supporting the different sized power circuits.
He also tried to image the impact of 730 kilovolts of power flowing overhead. The potential impact on the local power line operated by Jersey Central Power and Light Co. along Weldon Road is enough of a concern for that company to announce it will bury its line at the point it crosses under the more powerful overhead line.
But mostly he wonders about the potential that that much power flowing overhead could cause health risks.
Even though studies indicate there is little correlation between the presence of high-powered electric lines and cancers, Pascoe raises the question anyway.
Seven people living within 200 feet of the existing, lower-level power line, including himself, his mother and sister, either died from or were treated for a form of cancer. What might 730 kilovolts do, he wondered?
It bothers him that Jefferson Township was compensated for potential losses and costs associated with the construction of the new power line, and yet he and his sister, who were forced to close down a business on his own property because of that project, can not find anyone to discuss compensation for that loss.
It bothers him that the impact of the power line could cause his properties on either side of the power line to become hard to sell.
“Who would want to buy a property with a 200-foot tower just 100 feet away?” he asked.
But mostly, he’s bothered by the apparent finality of it all.
“We’re done,” he said.