WASHINGTON, DC – A coalition of national, regional and local conservation groups filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in federal court last week to stop construction of the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line.
The proposed line will run through three popular national parks – the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The action asks that the the court consider claims that the power line will cause irreversible ecological and scenic damage.
The National Park Service (NPS) approved the supersized transmission line on Oct. 1, 2012, despite the agency's conclusion that the project, as approved, would cause serious and enduring impacts on the parks.
As authorized by the NPS, the "massive 500KV power line would slice through the parks, impairing spectacular scenery, damaging rare geological and ecological resources, and marring the recreational experience for the more than 5.2 million people who visit the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area each year," said officials from the group. "The NPS's approval of the transmission line contradicts the agency's governing mandate to protect the National Park System 'unimpaired for future generations' as required by the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act.
Construction and pre-construction activities have already begun on segments of the transmission line in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Construction activities in the national park units will occur imminently. In a July 2012 environmental impact study conducted for the NPS, the human use and ecological impacts from the project were estimated to cost $89 million.
"The National Park Service has approved a project that is poised to permanently damage treasured public resources. Construction-related activities in the Delaware Water Gap could begin at any time, and if a preliminary injunction is not granted, the damage will be done before the court even gets a chance to decide the claims that are before it," said Hannah Chang, attorney with the public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing the conservation groups along with the New Jersey-based non-profit Eastern Environmental Law Center. "The circumstances here demand that construction be put on hold for now, so that the court at least has an opportunity to consider the claims raised."
Officials associated with the suit said "at stake is nothing less than the Delaware Water Gap's spellbinding views, pristine environment and diverse wildlife that include bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and black bears."
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was named a Top 10 most-photogenic national park for fall foliage, and is the eighth most visited national park unit in the country.
The Delaware River is one of the cleanest rivers in the nation. The Appalachian Trail, completed 75 years ago, and designated as the nation's first national scenic trail in 1968, is enjoyed by 2-3 million people each year. Together, these national parks offer some of the very best outdoor recreational opportunities for those living in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Page 2 of 3 - "Countless public dollars and volunteer hours have gone into protecting special places like the Delaware Water Gap," explained Mark Zakutansky, Mid-Atlantic Policy Manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club. "Allowing irreplaceable scenic vistas, trails and wildlife habitat to be permanently damaged violates the Park Service's mission and sends the wrong message about the value of our national treasures. We have to halt this construction, at least for now, so the court can review the case."
The transmission line crosses unique and sensitive resources in the parks.
"In the National Park Service's Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Susquehanna to Roseland line, it found that this project would 'degrade the integrity of resources and the scenic landscape' in the parks and 'appreciably diminish key aspects of the parks' that visitors enjoy," said Cinda Waldbuesser, Pennsylvania senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "That clearly violates the Organic Act which requires the agency to 'conserve the scenery' and protect park resources from impairment We intend to hold the National Park Service accountable to their core park preservation mission."
"The Susquehanna-Roseland line will cause irreparable harm and permanent damage to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. We cannot allow this violation of the public trust to go forward. Since the Park Service's decision will not protect the parks, we have to. In the 150 years since our first National Park was established, this is one of the worst decisions ever made by the National Park Service. If they can do it here, Yellowstone or Yosemite could be next," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club.
"The Park Service's Environmental Impact Statement failed to fully assess the total and cumulative impacts outside the park that will have a direct and indirect impact on the natural resources within the park boundary, including a Wild and Scenic portion of the Delaware River," said Maya van Rossum pf the Delaware Riverkeeper. "Construction, including clear-cutting forests, filling wetlands and road building, will cross over the Lackawaxen River, the Bushkill Creek and many other streams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey outside the Park, impacting water quality and habitat because many of these streams flow directly into the Delaware River within the park."
The new transmission line is being built by Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G) in New Jersey and Pennsylvania Power and Light Electric Utilities (PPL) in Pennsylvania. The project would include constructing new towers that would rise more than twice as high as existing towers, clearing trees and constructing staging areas and access roads through the parks.
To accommodate this new construction, the NPS has decided to grant a special use permit for construction and an expanded right-of-way.
"There is a staggering amount of evidence about the environmental damage that will occur if the project rips through the parks," said Marc Ross, Executive Director of Rock the Earth. "The giant towers and wider right-of-way create a huge visual disturbance where very little disturbance currently exists. These impacts will affect the experience of a large number of park visitors."
Page 3 of 3 - The conservation groups are challenging NPS's approval of the transmission line as a violation of the NPS Organic Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. They also point to deficiencies in the agency's required environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The motion to stop construction of the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line until the court rules on whether the NPS approval complies with federal law was filed by Earthjustice and Eastern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Jersey Highlands Coalition, New York–New Jersey Trail Conference, National Parks Conservation Association, Rock the Earth, Sierra Club, and Stop the Lines.