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West Ward Residents Question Placement of Electrical Station

Neighbors fear health risks, but PSE&G says switching facility is safe -- and necessary

West Ward Residents Question Placement of Electrical Station West Ward Residents Question Placement of Electrical Station

About 70 people attended a public information session at the 13th Avenue School Monday to hear presentations on a plan to build an electrical switching station in the area, a plan that has raised health and other concerns among residents of the densely populated West Ward neighborhood where it would be built.

“PSE&G should be a good neighbor, and to be a good neighbor you should be doing things environmentally correct,” said Kim Gaddy of the city’s environmental commission.

Representatives of PSE&G, however, insist the project presents no long term dangers and is necessary to ensure Newark has an adequate electrical supply, especially during natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy, which initially left 95 percent of the city in the dark. The site, which is now contaminated, will be cleaned up, and the property will be returned to the tax rolls for “the first time in 20 years,” said John Margaritis, a PSE&G project director.

Over the summer, the utility purchased property at 29-53 11th Ave. and 13-45 Littleton Ave., not far from the Georgia King Village residential high-rises. The site, a former church, was selected after a three-year search and after 18 locations were considered, PSE&G said.

The station had to be located within a “narrow corridor,” Margaritis added, in order to hook up to other stations. The utility was also limited by the availability of sites large enough to accommodate the station. 

“If we could have, we would have” purchased a site outside a residential area, Margaritis said, adding, however, that PSE&G has other switching stations near homes in communities across the state.

The  switching station will convert high-voltage electricity from power generating stations to a lower voltage that can then be transmitted to substations and, ultimately, into homes and businesses within Newark. The plan calls for the 230,000-volt facility, officially known as the Newark McCarter Switching Station, to be enclosed by a high wall that may be anywhere from 10 to 30 feet tall.

Construction is slated to begin in May and is expected to be completed in a little over a year.

Residents Monday raised a number of concerns, such as the impact the station would have on real estate values as well as possible asbestos contamination. Workers are already in the initial stages of removing the carcinogenic substance from the site. 

“My problem is that I suffer from asbestosis,” said George Givens, vice president of the residents committee at Georgia King. “I’m also concerned about the parents and the kids who suffer from asthma.”

Margaritas, however, said the utility has complied with requirements set out in its state-issued permit thus far, and will have to apply for additional permits before it actually takes the asbestos off the site.

Residents were also concerned about potential radiation emitting from the facility, a particular worry in a heavily industrialized city attuned to questions of fairness over the tendency for polluting infrastructure to be built near the homes of the poor and minorities.

But Kyle King, an electrical engineer working on the project, said those fears were unfounded.

“There’s a lot of misperceptions out there,” King said. “There’s no power generation going on at this site at all.”

High-voltage wires can generate both electrical and magnetic fields, which, if they’re strong enough, could lead to health problems in the long term. King, however, said residents will not be exposed to electrical fields because the power lines are buried and well-insulated. Small magnetic fields would be generated, but they would be confined to spots in the middle of the street and would be no more powerful than what is already emitted by overhead lines connected to telephone poles.

PSE&G will be appearing before city planning officials for final approval of the project.

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