By JESSICA HARDING
MIDDLETOWN — Monmouth County residents came out in full force and many voiced their concerns over the new, giant electric proposal by Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L).
Many disgruntled residents were among the estimated 2,000 on hand during the public meeting that was held at Middletown High School North on Jan. 25.
Some of the local community had formed the group Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE) eight months ago in response to this proposal.
RAGE members could be spotted in the audience that packed the high school’s auditorium wearing white T-shirts with the words, “No Monster Power Lines,” printed across the backs.
RAGE founder and Middletown resident Rachael Kanapka was overwhelmed by the amount of support that was in the auditorium.
“There is a capacity of 786 people in here and 500 in the cafeteria holding area. There are still people outside trying to get in.”
The crowd was attracted to the meeting in opposition to the project by JCP&L, under its parent company FirstEnergy, which seeks to build a 10-mile-long, high-voltage power line, cutting through Aberdeen, Hazlet, Middletown, Holmdel and Red Bank. The project is called the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP).
According to Kanapka, there are currently 4,401 members in the organization, and she received 7,643 signatures on a petition opposing the project.
During her speech, Kanapka raised questions about her own concerns. At one point, she asked everyone who opposed the project to raise their hands. A sea of hands raised up in the auditorium.
Kanapka compared choosing the MCRP, as opposed to another project, to choosing surgery to take out a splinter.
“Surgery will fix a splinter,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean it is the best method to choose, except to the doctor who is getting paid for it.”
Several mayors of the towns involved, senators’ representatives, concerned residents and township committee members were in attendance.
Sue Kiley, the new mayor of Hazlet, wanted to make a statement at the meeting and brought her two grandchildren to the podium with her.
She spoke of major health concerns that could affect generations to come and how she does not want them to affect those two girls.
Kiley said that the project would “decimate the community both financially and aesthetically.”
Kiley is not only a mayor, but a real estate agent. She said the MCRP is already having huge affects on property values, and 275 resident properties are within 200 feet of the proposed route.
Lifelong Middletown resident and Middletown Board of Education President Danielle Walsh always knew she wanted to live in Middletown, but is opposed to the project. She was happy to see the communities join forces.
“One of our community’s greatest strengths is the ability to come together,” she said as she teared up.
Office of Administrative Law Judge Gail M. Cookson served as the moderator of the meeting. She will be writing a recommendation to share with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU), which would then make the final decision.
That decision is expected to be announced by April.
Cookson informed the audience that the BPU has a staff of engineers, accountants and professionals who want the best for the community. She also stated that she wanted public statements only as opposed to questions and answers due to time restraints.
“I know there is a lot of passion about this issue just witnessed by the number of people here,” she said. “But there is passion on both sides, and I will give every side the opportunity to express that.”
FirstEnergy Supervisor of Transmission Sitings Scott Humphrys explained the project in depth. He described the new transmission line that will stretch from Aberdeen to Red Bank.
Humphrys stated that there had been a routing study completed as well as extensive field work and analysis for the social, environmental and financial impact the new power line would have.
“There have been two public information sessions as well as community outreach for the community’s input.”
Humphrys also explained that the project would increase reliability by 50 percent.
JCP&L spokeswoman Stephanie Walton released a statement relaying that, “The MCRP is necessary to provide our customers with the reliable electricity they depend on. JCP&L welcomes the opportunity to participate in the public hearing.”
Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-Monmouth, Middlesex), who was one of many politicians in attendance, expressed his own strong opposition to the project as he represented Middlesex and Monmouth counties.
“My opposition to this project stems from two primary issues: my skepticism that the MCRP is the best and most cost-effective way to ensure reliability in Monmouth County and the near universal opposition from the communities that would be affected by this project.”
In addition to Pallone, Holmdel Mayor Greg Buontempo declared that his entire town is against the project.
“Holmdel is a very beautiful community. No input from our town was taken prior to the planning.”
According to opposing residents, the health risks, financial strain, risk of danger and decrease in property values are all reasons enough to cancel the project.
Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders member Serena DiMaso deemed that there are “serious concerns” about the project.
DiMaso stated that the 110-210-foot poles would reach an average height of 140 feet. The power line would pass through schools, parks, recreation areas, natural habitats and bodies of water.
“This project runs through sensitive issues and should utilize safer underground conduits,” she said.
Middletown’s Deputy Mayor Stephanie Murray urged Cookson, “Don’t allow this scar to mark our community.”
Murray stated that there are 67,000 residents in Middletown and a less intrusive, alternative plan should be sought instead of the MCRP.
Assemblywoman Amy Handlin disclosed that she did not receive a single communication agreeing with this project. However, she received 5,000 communications against it.
“Once the poles are in, it will be hard to get them out,” she said.
Several audience members became frustrated because as the meeting came to a close at around 11:15 p.m., several who wanted to speak were not granted the opportunity after waiting four hours.
Cookson might hold another public hearing to give others a chance, but urged the public to write comments to her and she would read each one.
She held papers of hundreds of signatures from people who were not able to get into the school for the meeting.
Visit StopJCPL.org or https://www.firstenergycorp.com/jersey_central_power_light.html for more information.