Environmental groups say agency looked the other way to get $66 million package.

Last updated: June 16. 2013 11:35PM - 1214 Views

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The National Park Service ignored its own findings that construction of a massive power line across federal lands near Bushkill would cause serious adverse environmental impacts, so that it could accept $66 million in “mitigation,” an environmental coalition says in a federal lawsuit.

Attorneys for the groups — including the Sierra Club — point to internal meeting minutes they say show clearly that the National Park Service originally designated a “no build” alternative and an alternate route around the park as preferred actions.

Pennsylvania-based PPL Electric Utilities and Public Service Electric and Gas, of New Jersey, seek permission to cross the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Delaware River and Appalachian Trail as part of a two-state electrical line upgrade.

The park service last fall approved the power companies’ proposal to use and widen an existing right of way predating the park to erect taller towers and more powerful lines.

The park service conducted an environmental review before announcing its decision.

Environmental groups contend that internal documents show U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declared: “So here’s the deal: I want $60 m (million) and I want it now.”

The $66 million compensation package ultimately agreed to will be used to mitigate “unavoidable” environmental and cultural impacts of the power line upgrade.

Funds will be used to lessen and remediate those impacts, add amenities inside the park and buy and protect thousands of acres outside park boundaries.

The park service failed to consider and disclose the compensation plan in the environmental impact review and should be ordered to address it in a supplemental environmental impact statement, the groups maintain.

The coalition also rejects arguments by the companies and the park service that the utilities had pre-existing rights to use the right of way for the upgrade.

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