Power lines start to hum

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:33

Milford - A power transmission project that would shadow the Delaware River is being opposed by Pike County. Meeting Wednesday, the county commissioners announced their opposition to the New York Regional Interconnect project. Project sponsors in March announced plans to construct 200 mile-long, 400-kilovolt power transmission line running from the Utica, N.Y. area to a terminus near New Windsor in Orange County. Under one proposed route the line would follow the Norfolk-Southern Railroad right-of way through the federally protected Upper Delaware Valley. The railroad passes through all three riverfront townships, Lackawaxen, Shohola and Westfall. An alternative route would follow an existing gas line right-of-way inland in Sullivan County. While construction details are scant, the project is expected to employ large overhead poles or towers to support the lines. The construction of those towers and clearing of adjoining right-of-way spaces for maintenance would take place along the steep valley wall that the railroad follows through much of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. “It’s just insane,” said Commissioner Richard Caridi. “This is one of the last scenic and recreational rivers of its kind on the East Coast and they want to screw it up. Give me a break.” The project announcement drew immediate criticism from local environmental groups as well as river-based commercial interests. Tens of thousands of boaters use the river annually, and river sport fishermen contribute up to $20 million annually to the local economy in New York. Project sponsors say new power transmission routes are necessary to meet New York City’s growing power demands and reduce growing power costs to consumers. Federal law passed last year called for a survey of the nation’s overburdened power transmission corridors, with an eye toward expansion. The U.S. Department of Energy is expected to issue a study in August. Project developers are trying to expedite the process and have filed for early federal approval of a new National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor that would include the river valley. There is no apparent time frame for a federal decision on the issue, said Upper Delaware Council Executive Director Bill Douglass. The Upper Delaware Council manages the federal park area with the National Park Service. Douglass said the new project caught people off-guard and “has been snowballing ever since.“ Douglass said the project is the apparent outgrowth of a 2003 proposal by a Canadian company known as Pegasus Power Systems. Pegasus principal Richard Muddiman is also a principal in the new project. Pegasus languished in scheduled submissions to the New York Public Service Commission and was eventually withdrawn. “We thought it was gone,” Douglass commented. New York Regional Interconnect emerged the spring. The new company appears to be better organized and connected. Douglass pointed to their lawyers, who include a firm where former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani is a partner. “They’re definitely slick,” Douglass said. The Council opposed Pegasus and are opposing its successor on the same grounds, Douglass said. The federally approved plan for managing the river holds transmission projects as inconsistent with protection of the valley. The Council has termed the project “a clear and direct threat” to the resource. In a letter to federal energy officials, National Park Service Superintendent David Forney highlighted visual impacts, recreational concerns and threats to the area’s bald eagle population. Large towers would have a “major negative impact to the natural scenery of the Upper Delaware,” he wrote. They would also “dramatically alter the existing landscape and would significantly impact the experience of tens of thousands of recreationists who use the river.” In addition to concerns about water quality degradation after construction, Forney concluded, “We also believe that the presence of the towers would have a detrimental effect on the largest and most important inland bald eagles wintering and nesting habitat in the northeastern United States.” Some elected officials have joined the debate. New York Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther of Sullivan County said, “The Upper Delaware River Valley is an inappropriate route for the transmission line. We need to take advantage of our region’s rural character and tourism potential to strengthen our local economy.” Gunther further warned of developers’ use of condemnation to acquire needed property. “Before this $1 billion plan is completed landowners could be bought out, using eminent domain to seize property, and replacing backyard views of foliage with poles, utility lines and towers reaching over 100 feet in height,” she said. Pennsylvania 20th state Senate district candidate David Madeira also spoke to the condemnation issue. “The company is already talking about taking private property for this privately funded commercial project that will benefit New York City,” he said. “This project will put companies, such as Kittatinny Canoes, highly dependent on the Upper Delaware River for its business, in peril.” Caridi said the commissioners will prepare a resolution of opposition that will be delivered at a developer’s public information meeting in Otisville, N.Y., next week.