THORNHURST TWP. — Dozens of people attending one of two public hearings at the Thornhurst Volunteer Fire Station on Thursday had to drive through a scenic woodland filled with pristine waterways to get there.
And many who spoke at the state Public Utility Commission hearings want to keep it that way.
The hearings focused on a 57-mile electric reliability improvement line that PPL Electric has proposed to construct between Jenkins Township in Luzerne County and Lake Township in Wayne County that also would traverse the North Pocono region of Lackawanna County.
In total, the project would increase electricity reliability for about 250,000 customers in six counties, PPL’s Paul G. Wirth said. The project includes the construction of three new substations and 11.3 miles of 138/69-kilovolt line connecting proposed substations in Covington Township in Lackawanna County and Buck Township, Luzerne County.
While many residents didn’t question the need for new 230-kilovolt transmission line, most questioned the route the line would follow.
“The proposed route is inappropriate,” said Philip Mosley of Clifton Township. Calling it “nonsensical,” he said there are less intrusive ways the line could run.
This was also pointed out by state Rep. Kevin Haggerty, D-Dunmore, who said he received 400 petitions on Thursday from constituents. He was applauded after telling an administrative law judge a better route could be found, and it’s not too far from the current one being eyed by PPL.
Haggerty said the PPL route “would forever change the natural beauty of this area of the Poconos.” He urged a route change to the north of the proposed one, saying it’s more rural and less populated.
Others said there were public lands adjacent to the route that would be better suited and would impact fewer private properties.
Opponents cite reasons
One by one, residents — mostly from Thornhurst, Clifton and Buck townships — voiced their displeasure for how the line, with its 145-foot-tall steel poles, would impact the bucolic scenery that generations have come to cherish.
June Ejk, a supervisor in Clifton Township, noted her small, rural municipality has no post office, no police force and few businesses.
“People live in Clifton Township because they enjoy a simpler, quieter way of life,” she said.
Edward Page, a Thornhurst resident told the judge he protests the project “most vehemently.”
“Good luck trying to sell your home if you live anywhere near these gargantuan towers,” Page said.
Union weighs in
Not everyone who took the podium opposed the project.
Henry Stanski, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the project would create jobs. The Shavertown resident said since the last time he was in Thornhurst he has noticed many new homes and with it the increased need for electricity.
PPL noted the current 69-kilovolt power lines serving the region are no longer adequate for customer needs, especially in winter months when residential heating increases demand. Also, the region is served by lines that span great distances, in some cases 40 miles, making the region more susceptible to extended power outages.
Wirth also noted that moving the lines further north would defeat the purpose of the project because the substations have been slated for areas that have the greatest need.
The lines must stay as close to the substations as possible, he said.
But Ron Ashton, a Buck Township resident, said he is convinced that the power would be used by customers in New Jersey and New York.
He said PPL is “more interested in reliable revenue than reliable service.”
Administrative Law Judge David A. Salapa will use the testimony as the basis for his findings and will make a recommendation to the PUC. The PUC, at a future public meeting, will use his recommendation and either vote to affirm it, reject it or modify it and vote on the amended decision.
PPL’s application states that it wants construction to begin in spring 2014 for an in-service date of November 2017. But before it could start it, the company needs PUC approval and right of eminent domain.
Wirth said about 75 percent of the properties needed have been signed over.
But 32 remain, including about a half-dozen in Luzerne County.