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In re Petitions of Public Service Electric and Gas Co.

Decided: March 15, 1968.

IN THE MATTER OF THE PETITIONS OF PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC AND GAS COMPANY, PURSUANT TO N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.6 FOR THE RIGHT TO EXERCISE THE POWER OF EMINENT DOMAIN, ETC., AFFECTING LANDS OF JOHN A. SCHROTH, ET AL. APPEAL OF CITIZENS OPPOSED TO POWER TOWERS, READINGTON CHAPTER, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC AND GAS COMPANY, AND BOARD OF PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSIONERS OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RESPONDENTS



Goldmann, Kilkenny and Carton. The opinion of the court was delivered by Carton, J.A.D.

Carton

The Board of Public Utility Commissioners (Board) granted Public Service Electric and Gas Company (Public Service) the right to condemn certain lands for a 200-foot-wide right-of-way from a point in the Township of Holland in Hunterdon County near the Pennsylvania line to the Township of Branchburg, Somerset County. This right-of-way or corridor is to be used to construct overhead transmission facilities to transport bulk electric energy from Pennsylvania to several northeast states, including New Jersey. This portion of the route, together with the proposed northern branch extending from Branchburg to the New York border, compromises a part of a major power generation and transmission network known as the "Keystone Project."

The Keystone transmission facilities in this State will consist of steel powers varying in height from 82 to 192 feet, depending on the nature of the terrain, the spanning distance between towers being from 400 to 1940 feet. These towers will support 500,000-volt, three-phase transmission lines consisting of six aluminum cables.

Appellant is the Committee Opposing Power Towers of Readington, Inc. (C.O.P.T. Readington), a nonprofit corporation of residents in the Readington area formed to voice opposition to the method of transmission and the design and route of this network. At the hearing before the Board, appellant and other interested parties asserted that the erection of the towers and the electric transmission system would adversely affect the aesthetic character of the lands through which the right-of-way passes and urged, among other things, that the cables should be placed underground, thus eliminating the need for the towers.

On this appeal appellant does not make any specific challenge to the factual findings of the Board, but charges that the Board, in arriving at its conclusions, failed to exercise various planning functions allegedly imposed upon it by statute. The manner in which it is claimed the board was remiss will be considered hereafter.

I.

BACKGROUND AND PROCEEDINGS BEFORE BOARD

A brief summary of the salient factual background of this controversy and the proceedings before the Board is necessary to understand and determine the issues raised on this appeal by C.O.P.T. Readington, the sole appealing party.

Early in 1965 Public Service, a New Jersey corporation supplying electricity to the public in 233 New Jersey municipalities, filed petitions with the Commission, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.6 and 48:3-17.7, to exercise the right of eminent domain to acquire interests in certain lands needed for a portion of the right-of-way between Holland Township and Branchburg. These petitions, together with notice of the time and place of the initial hearing, were served on the property owners. Notice was also served on the municipalities in which the properties are located, as well as on the counsel to the Governor, the Department of Conservation and Economic Development, and others. Pursuant to Board

directions, Public Service also published notice of the hearing in several newspapers in Hunterdon and Somerset Counties.

In August 1965 C.O.P.T. Tewksbury (not the appellant, but another nonprofit corporation organized generally for the same purpose as appellant) filed a petition, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 48:2-19 and 48:2-36.1, requesting the Board to compel Public Service to submit a complete report on "the feasibility of the method of transmission of electrical energy through the State of New Jersey and the feasibility of the entire route to be taken in New Jersey." C.O.P.T. Tewksbury had appeared at the outset of the hearings on the eminent domain proceedings. On September 28, 1965 its petition was consolidated with the eminent domain matters.

Appellant C.O.P.T. Readington was formed on November 12, 1965; and on January 24, 1966 (the date of the 27th hearing), over objection of Public Service, it was permitted to intervene.*fn1

The Board conducted 37 hearings extending over some 18 months, during the course of which voluminous testimony was presented and 139 exhibits received into evidence. (37 volumes, consisting of 3,900 pages of testimony, have been submitted to the court for consideration on this appeal.) At the conclusion of the hearings the Board filed a 78-page opinion in which it determined that the relief sought by Public Service was in the public interest. In granting Public

Service the authority to exercise the power of eminent domain to acquire the rights-of-way requested in the petitions, the Board, as it was required to do, made numerous findings on the issues raised in the consolidated proceedings.

II.

FINDINGS AS TO REASONABLENESS OF TAKING UNDER N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.7

The Board made the statutory findings required by N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.7, including specific determinations that the taking was reasonably necessary for the service, accommodation, convenience or safety of the public; that the taking was compatible with the public interest, and that it would not unduly injure the owners of private property.

In its decision the Board reviewed at length the evidence which overwhelmingly demonstrated the need for the proposed facilities, and sketched the extent and character of the area served by Public Service and the underlying factors which pointed inexorably to the tremendously increased demand for electric power in the near future. The evidence showed that the company's service area has realized a high degree of diversified industrial, commercial and residential growth because of the availability of airport, rail, seaport and highway facilities; that population of the area had greatly increased, accompanied by a corresponding growth in sales of electricity, and that the need for reliable electric service to meet these rising demands was a major factor which led to the decision to build, in conjunction with the other companies, the system of extra high-voltage transmission lines. Such facilities are intended to deliver to New Jersey energy generated at low cost at coal fields in Pennsylvania and at the same time provide high-capacity inter-area ties. The Board, in referring to the famous northeast area blackout of 1965, strongly emphasized the importance of interconnection coordination, area inter-ties and power pooling, thus greatly enhancing the system reliability of Public Service and its

ability to render safe, adequate and proper service to its customers.

Noting that although nuclear power plants are becoming more economically competitive with other forms of electrical generation, the Board expressed the view that the concept of mine-mouth generation as exemplified by the Keystone Project should not be abandoned as obsolete. The location of the generating site in Pennsylvania, rather than locating new or expanding existing coal using plants in New ...


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