Following an exhaustive environmental review, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the National Park Service (NPS) has approved construction of the 4.5 mile section of the proposed 146 mile Susquehanna-Roseland Transmission Line that crosses federal land. Approval by the NPS of this segment is one in a series of steps necessary for the larger project to move forward. The entire project is expected to create thousands of jobs, improve electric service reliability in one of the most congested energy markets in the country and help lower electric bills for consumers in the Northeast.
"By moving forward with this critical upgrade of our power grid, we are getting Americans back to work modernizing our nation's infrastructure, all while ensuring our treasured national parks are protected," said Secretary Salazar. "This project brings the nation's electric system one step closer to a modern, 21st century grid that is safer and more secure, and gives consumers more energy choices. I'm pleased the companies have committed to significant mitigation work and look forward to making additional announcements about that in the coming weeks."
The $1.2-billion, 146-mile electricity transmission line, of which the NPS has jurisdiction over the segment that crosses federal land, will be built from Berwick, Pa., to Roseland, N.J., along the corridor of an existing transmission line and, according to the applicants, will directly support an estimated 2,000 jobs. To alleviate overloaded existing power lines in the Northeast, the new transmission lines will reduce overloads that can cause brownouts or blackouts, helping to ensure reliable service for more than 300 school districts, 100 hospitals, 15 water and sewer authorities and 1.7 million homes.
The Susquehanna-Roseland project is one of seven pilot transmission line projects identified as part of President Obama's Rapid Response Team for Transmission. These projects are analyzing and applying best practices regarding transmission permitting and siting processes to improve efficiencies and communication among federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies on current and future projects.
NPS is expected to issue special use and construction permits in the near future for sections of the transmission line that cross three units of the National Park Service in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and Appalachian National Scenic Trail. These permits are one in a series necessary for the entire project, which the Pennsylvania and New Jersey utility commissions have determined is needed and in the public interest, to go forward.
The approved route follows the path of existing power lines 95 percent of the way. The Pennsylvania portion (101 miles) is being built by PPL Electric Utilities of Allentown, Pa, and the New Jersey portion (45 miles) is being built by Public Service Electric and Gas Company of Newark, N.J. The line is expected to be in service by summer 2015.
The decision to issue special use and construction permits would require the new transmission line within the park units to be located entirely along existing rights-of-way held by the companies for decades and that long predate the parks' establishment. The two utilities will take significant steps to avoid and minimize adverse impacts on federal lands and will contribute at least $56 million dollars to a mitigation fund to purchase and preserve lands for public use, enhance wildlife habitat and pathways for migratory birds, improve public access to the Delaware River and the Appalachian Trail, and to offset impacts to wetlands, cultural and historic properties, and other impacts of the project.
The companies submitted a complete application to the National Park Service in March 2009 for construction and right-of way permits, which were needed in addition to their existing easements, for the 4.5 mile section of the line where it crosses three national park units.
In December 2011, the National Park Service issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the impacts of the transmission line project on National Park Service lands.
In March 2012, the Service identified a preferred alternative to be evaluated in the Final EIS, based on public comments and public meetings, that the proposed Susquehanna-Roseland power line expansion project would follow the route of the existing transmission line.
In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Park Service prepared the final EIS that analyzed the site-specific impacts of the proposed grant of the right of way within the three units of the National Park System.
In August 2012, the agency announced publication of the Notice of Availability of the Final EIS in the Federal Register by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Preparation for construction is expected in winter 2012. Construction of towers and stringing of the conductors is expected to commence in the winter of 2013, lasting approximately six months.