If Public Service Electric and Gas doubles the height and capacity of power lines next to a field behind Lazar Middle School as part of the company's planned Susquehanna-Roseland power line, the Montville Township Board of Education will have $1.5 million from the company available to mitigate the effects of the project under a settlement agreement approved by the school board on Tuesday.
The money would be put in escrow and could be used, for example, to relocate or build new playgrounds, plant landscaping or gain access to additional fields, school board President Dr. Karen Cortellino said.
PSE&G also agrees to reimburse the Board of Education $75,000 for expenses it incurred during Board of Public Utilities proceedings, Cortellino said.
Cortellino said the school board found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Safety concerns are still the school board's priority. But if the board didn't settle, the project still likely would be approved and the district would not have money available to mitigate the effects, she said.
The project already has approval from the state Board of Public Utilities and the backing of the federal government, which said in October it wants the project fast-tracked to create jobs and improve the power grid. The project still needs the approval of the National Park Service, which is holding a hearing on the proposal at 6 p.m. on Jan. 26 in Lafayette.
Board attorney Steve Edelstein told school board members during the Tuesday meeting at Montville Township High School that the district might lose the opportunity for a settlement if it didn't act in 2011. As a condition of the settlement, the board agrees it will not oppose project in the BPU proceeding, "which in my mind is not that significant a concession since the BPU has already approved the project," Edelstein said.
The Board of Education participated in BPU proceedings objecting to the project, citing concerns with health issues, aesthetics and how it would limit options for expanding Lazar.
PSE&G experts said radiation levels would be safe and the school board's own expert, who questioned PSE&G's report, did not identify health risks, Cortellino said.
If the lines are built, BPU has ordered PSE&G to take readings of radiation from the power line to assure its estimates were correct.
The school board also agrees not to oppose any application the power company might make to increase its rates to recoup costs from the project or settlement, Edelstein said.
The settlement does not require the school board to give up its position in any other proceeding and doesn't preclude any individual from pursuing claims against PSE&G if they ever feel they are harmed by the power line, he said.
In May 2010, the Montville Township Committee approved its own settlement with PSE&G for $380,957 that would be paid once construction on the lines is underway. The settlement includes $135,000 for emergency preparedness and safety, $65,957.40 for landscaping and $150,000 for construction impacts, according to the township website.