Andy and Sally Davis moved into their home on Kempshall Terrace in Fanwood, NJ 12 years ago.
Despite being located across the street from a lattice transmission tower and adjacent to a right-of way, with the shield of 60 foot pine trees along the front right side of their property, the single family home seemed an ideal fit for this now family of five.
However, since moving into their home, the Davis family is seeing several changes to their area, which they now believe threaten their family’s prosperity.
“We’re just trying to survive,” Andy Davis said. “Our homes are our primary investment, like it or not.”
In late July, a PSE&G contractor informed the Davis family that a new transmission tower would be constructed on the vacant lot next to their property as part of the .
The project, which seeks to upgrade existing transmission lines and substations from 138,000 voltage power to 230,000 voltage power along 35 miles of northern and central New Jersey, would follow the existing PSE&G overhead right-of-way from the West Orange Switching Station in Essex County to the Sewaren Switching Station in Middlesex County, updating many towers as old as 90 years to new monopoles along the way.
According to PSE&G Project Director Transmission Expansion Communications and Outreach John Margaritis, the proposed monopole next to the Davis’s property would be significantly smaller at the base, but taller by about 20 feet.
The Davis’s first concern was that they said they were never notified of this move, and if they hadn't noticed the stakes placed in the right-of-way adjacent to their property and asked the contractor surveying the lot what he was doing, they wouldn't have known the monopole was going to be erected.
According to the Davis family, the closest they came to being notified was when PSE&G and another contractor told them this past spring they needed to move their fence because it was determined to be on PSE&G property.
They said the move was billed as a safety measure for the NCR Project, and they received a letter and were visited by an engineer to tell them about the fence and property line. However, the Davis family said they spoke at length to the contractor about the fence move, but they were never told at that time that the current tower would be displaced and moved across the street to the adjacent property.
Since learning about the new monopole, the Davis family contacted Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr and Borough Engineer Ray Sullivan, who also were unaware the tower was being moved.
According to Sally Davis, the borough relayed to the residents that they had to be given notice by certified letter if the structure was to be within 200 feet of their property. They have received no such letter.
According to Mahr, PSE&G came into Fanwood about a year ago when they were seeking their Board of Public Utilities approval for the project, and utility company laid out for borough officials why they were seeking to make changes. However, the project did not need local approval Mahr said, but rather received its approval from the BPU. She said there was no discussion at that time of any existing pole being substantially moved.
“We thought the pole would be replaced in the existing area of where the existing lattice tower is now, and for whatever engineering reason they have, they want to relocate it,” Mahr said.
According to Sally Davis, PSE&G Project- Regional Public Affairs Manager Arthur R. Ondish noted in an email correspondence with the residents that when the NCR Project was proposed, PSE&G held seven public workshops in the area to allow its customers and neighbors the opportunity to see the Project plans and have their questions and concerns addressed.
However, while the Davis family did not attend the public workshops, Sally Davis suspects the decision to move the tower across from their property was not made until recently.
“The PSE&G Public Relations guy that came out here said that he was not aware that they were moving the towers. The town was not aware that they were moving the towers. So my whole feeling is, if these people all weren’t aware that they were moving the towers, then in 2011, last July, how would they be able to tell us that they were moving the towers when no one knew until just now,” she posited.
The letters publicizing the workshops were evasive, Andy Davis said, with no indication that any towers would be moving. He believes the plan should have been communicated to residents better.
“If they’re telling us to move a fence, then here’s a letter, and you get a phone call about your bill being two minutes late, and all that we get and we’re being communicated on. But we’re not being communicated on the simple fact that you’re constructing a 100 foot tower next to our house,” he said.
On Friday, August 10, in the early morning, the Davises noticed crews beginning to install a silt fence and gravel in preparation of monopole construction. Crews also re-staked the right-of-way.
The Davises contacted Mahr, who said she was able to convey to the borough’s PSE&G contacts the issue the Davis family were having and the need for PSE&G to stop what they were doing and revisit the location.
“We should know why they’re doing it, and if they’re doing it, they need to understand that that impacts us tremendously,” Sally Davis said.
At the time, Mahr said she was hopeful PSE&G would reconsider the location of the new monopole.
“I’m not sure how far or in what direction, but it is my hope that where those stakes went down, that they will be able to accommodate the concerns of the residents that had an issue with where the tower is going,” she said.
According to Margaritis, a new tower collocated to the pole in question was originally planned to be constructed in wetlands. However, wherever possible, Margaritis said towers should be moved from such an area. The tower therefore had to be moved 120 feet to avoid the saturated location, thereby altering the placement of neighboring towers, including the tower closest to the Davis’s property.
PSE&G have since named an alternative location for the monopole, which would move the tower construction site to the area of the right-of-way between the Davis’s property and the property behind theirs.
“This is something we never do,” Margaritis said. “This is something we will not do again. But we were willing to try and accommodate them.”
He said that while the monopole would still be next to their property, it would no longer be in their sightline, about 50 feet back from the initially proposed location.
“This really is our best shot,” Margaritis said. “We wish we could have left it on the other side of the road–I’m positive that’s what the Davises would have preferred–we cannot. It cannot be reengineered.”
PSE&G plans to construct the monopoles in Fanwood beginning in late October. Construction would take about two weeks each time contractors are on location, with three stages of construction for each pole. Margaritis said crews would first dig a hole and pour concrete in preparation for planting the monopole, then put the pole in place, and the final stage would include removing the existing tower.
“We want to be a good neighbor, but there are some instances where–in 99 percent of the instances–we can do nothing once the engineering is done, because there’s no latitude,” Margaritis said. “We have a time schedule where this has to be in service. What we will do is try to be as unobtrusive as possible during the construction phase, and I think the surprise will be that it will look better than it does now.”
Asides from their concerns about being notified about the monopole, the Davises say they are concerned for a variety of additional reasons, including health risks to their children, whether PSE&G has done their due diligence on this project, and above all else, a possible decrease in their home’s property value.
The Davises say not enough research has been done to prove that nearby transmission towers will not cause a health risk, and they are especially concerned for their multi-handicapped son who is already at high risk for seizures.
In addition, they do not believe there is enough safety-leeway for these towers–if the monopole falls, they believe it could land on their home.
“There is no concern,” Margaritis said in response. “There’s never been one that’s fallen. They’re used extensively throughout the country, and much bigger ones than the ones we’re putting in.”
Primarily, Andy and Sally Davis want to be assured that their home, which they consider to be their primary investment and equity for their family’s future, will not lose value.
Sally Davis said during informal discussions with appraisers she was told living next to a transmission tower differs greatly from living across from one, and she has no doubt the new monopole would impact her property value.
“The majority of our money is in our property value, and if that’s going to be affected by this humungous power tower right next to our property, I would hope that they would at least try to help us out in that way, and they’re not,” Sally Davis said.
When the Davises addressed their financial concerns to Ondish via email, the Davises said he responded that they purchased their home in its existing location along a utility right-of-way that PSE&G established in the 1920s, and PSE&G is replacing the structures within that dedicated right-of-way without expanding or changing its use or character. Therefore, PSE&G do not believe the Project is adversely impacting the values of the properties adjacent to the existing right-of-way.
However, the Davises and their neighbor Laurel Muenzen, who lives on the other side of the right-of-way, say, had the present tower been on the lot next to their home when they considered the properties, they would have never bought their homes.
“They said we bought knowing it was across the street,” Muenzen said. “We didn’t buy next door.”
The Davises bought their home across from the transmission tower 60 foot pine trees obstructed their view of the tower.
After surveying many other homes in the area along the right-of-way, Sally Davis said those homes also have tremendous natural screens blocking residents’ view of the towers.
“We had that,” she said. “They took it down.”
In 2001, contractors for PSE&G destroyed the pine trees lining the Davis’s property by attempting to trim them trunk-to-sky. The trees separated their property from the right-of-way as a natural screen, but because of the damage caused during the trim, the trees had to be removed and PSE&G agreed to replace the 60 foot pine trees with a mixture of arborvitaes and forsythia. According to Sally Davis, this substitution did nothing to obstruct their view of the existing tower, but they accepted the substitution without further discussion at the time.
Now, the Davises want to know what research PSE&G have conducted leading them to conclude there would be no decrease in property value. In addition, the Davises have requested to meet with PSE&G engineers to discuss alternatives to the construction next to their home. PSE&G representatives have yet to follow up with the Davises on these requests, they said.
“They’re dismissing us, acting like this is no different than it being across the street,” Sally Davis said.
The family has yet to hire an attorney and hopes PSE&G will continue to work with the Davises on the matter. Andy Davis said in the 12 years that they have lived next to the right-of-way, they have had a decent relationship with the utility company.
“All we’re trying to do is just stay the course,” Sally Davis said. “This will affect us dramatically financially. That’s why we’re fighting it so badly.”
“We’re just expecting them to help us out knowing that they are affecting us financially,” she said.