Freeholders urge PSE&G on higher utility poles

Photo by Liv Meier
PSE&G is looking to install 65-foot high-voltage utility poles, like the one above on Winslow Avenue in Union, throughout the county, including proposals for Westfield and Cranford.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has joined with some local municipalities in a fight to keep tall, high-voltage utility poles out of residential areas, urging PSE&G to conduct further investigations before installing the lines throughout Union County.

PSE&G is proposing to install 65-foot utility poles along South Avenue in Westfield and several streets in Cranford to accommodate a statewide electrical grid upgrade. Similar installations were completed more than a year ago in Union.
A resolution unanimously approved at the freeholders’ May 16 meeting urges the utility company to extend its public comment period before commencing with the plans.

PSE&G plans to increase the lines’ power from 26,000 volts to 69,000 volts and connect seven of its substations in the region as part of its project to increase the electrical grid’s reliability, according to a May press release from the company. The replacement poles will range from 65 to 75 feet tall, with about 10 feet of that underground.

Cranford and Westfield residents have expressed concern at their local council meetings and to the Freeholder Board regarding the safety of the plan. An online petition started in Westfield more than three months ago, titled “No More Monster Power Lines,” has more than 2,500 signatures. Lawn signs can be seen in several places, including along Walnut Street in Cranford.

Cranford Mayor Patrick Giblin announced at the May 28 Township Committee meeting that when he had met with PSE&G representatives that morning, they said they were looking into relocating the lines to the Conrail freight rail right of way.
“Over the past few weeks, PSE&G has performed extensive technical analysis regarding construction of the line along the railroad right of way. In addition, a meeting was conducted with railroad representatives last week. The railroad is currently evaluating our potential use of the right of way,” Giblin said, reading a statement from PSE&G. “While their evaluation is under way, PSE&G continues to examine whether rerouting along the right of way would afford us adequate access for construction and ongoing maintenance. This upfront engineering and project coordination is both critical and extremely time intensive.”

“I continue to encourage members of the public to reach out to us and other elected officials with concerns about this project,” Giblin added.

PSE&G’s proposal for Cranford, which was unveiled at the April 8 Township Committee meeting, included above and below ground transmission lines which stretch along several residential streets including above ground lines on Meeker Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and Walnut Avenue.

PSE&G will also conduct “vegetation management” by cutting down 14 trees — seven each on Lincoln and Walnut avenues — as well as trimming 47 others. PSE&G will be replacing each tree it cuts with two, according to the township’s website.
PSE&G announced a new proposal on March 29 for Westfield, reworking the route of the infrastructure upgrade to satisfy residents who had been angered by a previous proposal to run lines along South Avenue from the town’s border with Scotch Plains to its border with Garwood. The original plans, brought to the local council in February, called for lines on Scotch Plains Avenue, Shackamaxon Drive, Rahway Avenue, Grove Street, Central Avenue and Sycamore Street.

An estimated 24 trees along that route will be trimmed and another 24 removed. For the original plan, 54 trees were to be removed and 43 trimmed.

PSE&G already has completed the first phase of its upgrades in Union, removing almost 30 trees from Winslow Avenue to accommodate the new poles.

Since 2007, PSE&G has installed more than 400 miles of 69,000-volt lines in more than 93 municipalities in New Jersey. By the end of 2023, they anticipate that 570 miles will have been upgraded, according to the release.
The Cranford proposal also contains plans to build a new power substation on a portion of the property at 750 Walnut Avenue, take a substation in Clark out of service, connecting the new substation to the grid with 69-kilovolt lines.

Hartz Mountain Industries currently has an application to rezone the 30.5-acre site at 750 Walnut Ave. from office and warehouse to residential. It is part of a larger proposal to raze the mostly vacant office buildings and a warehouse to construct three, five-story apartment buildings and two, four-story apartment buildings. The plans propose a 905-unit apartment complex that will also include two swimming pools, clubhouses and some 17,800 parking spaces.
PSE&G is looking to purchase approximately 6 acres of the 750 Walnut property.