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PPL rejects request for new hearing

‘Arrogance’: Northampton County officials say northern tier towns won’t be given a say in the matter.

PPL Electric Utilities has turned down a request from Northampton County Executive John Stoffa and County Councilman Ron Angle for a hearing in the county’s northern tier – the area of one of three proposed routes for a large power line project.

The two officials wrote to PPL on June 26 requesting the session. Two information sessions have already been held – in Forks Township and Northampton – but neither of those communities is included along Route C, which would cut through northern Lehigh and Northampton counties before crossing the Delaware River at Martins Creek.

County Council on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution calling on the utility to hold a hearing in one of the county townships that would be affected by the possible route. Lehigh, Moore, Bushkill, Plainfield, Washington and Lower Mount Bethel townships are along the route.

Greg Smith, PPL’s transmission expansion manager, said in a July 3 letter that more than 600 people attended workshops in Forks Township and Northampton. In addition, he said the utility has set up a toll-free phone line for input, and comments could also be made via e-mail at a dedicated project Web site.

”Respectfully, given the exhaustive public input process PPL Electric Utilities has voluntarily undertaken and the considerable input we have received from Northampton County, we don’t believe another public meeting here will add to the information we have already gathered,” Smith wrote.

Smith said PPL was aware of opposition to Route C that would take the Susquehanna-Roseland line through the county’s northern reaches. He said he spoke with residents of Moore and other townships at the meeting at the Northampton Community Center.

In his letter, Smith said PPL expected to decide early next month on which route it wants to pursue. Route C also would run through Heidelberg, Lynn and Washington townships in Lehigh County.

Councilman Charles Dertinger of Washington Township said it was ”pretty shrewd” of PPL to hold the hearings ”well outside” the line. ”I was kind of surprised that they didn’t hold them in Bucks County so as not to possibly get any input from people who really are affected,” he said proceeding council’s vote on the Angle resolution.

Dertinger said it ”very clearly makes sense” to hold a hearing in an area that may be affected.

Angle said he may enlist the help of local state legislators to get a hearing in the northern part of the county. If that fails, he promised more drastic measures.

”I will personally lead a picket at PPL headquarters,”Angle said Monday. ”I will personally lie down in front of the front door, and [Allentown Mayor)] Pawlowski can send the police to lock me up.”

Angle said he wanted a hearing where PPL would answer specific questions about the line and the three routes. He said the utility hasn’t allowed for that and added he was tired of the company’s ”arrogance.”

PPL spokesman Paul Wirth said open houses were held in Forks and Northampton because they were centrally located, able to accommodate larger groups and had ample parking. He said comments from property owners who would be affected by Route C, as well as nearby property owners, were heard at those forums.

”Keep in mind we haven’t made a decision yet,” Wirth said.

Once a route is chosen, the state Public Utility Commission will hold hearings before an administrative law judge where testimony will be taken, Wirth said.

PPL also plans to hold additional public input meetings along the chosen route, both before and after that route is filed with the PUC.

”We welcome all input and we are still taking public comment. Any resolution will be considered carefully by us,” Wirth said, adding PPL has heard ”loud and clear” the opposition to Route C in Northampton County. ”We understand that and are taking that into account before making a decision,” he said.

By Joe Nixon | Of The Morning Call


15 July 2008