BPU Vegetation Management Stakeholder Meeting Aug. 21, 2008 - Transcript


                      STATE OF NEW JERSEY
                   BOARD OF PUBLIC UTILITIES

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    IN THE MATTER OF THE             :
    RULES, SUBCHAPTER 9 -            :
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               TRANSCRIPT of the stenographic notes of the
   proceedings in the above-entitled matter, as taken by
   and before Lorin Thompson, a Shorthand Reporter and
   Notary Public of the State of New Jersey, held at the
   office of the Board of Public Utilities, Two Gateway
   Center, Newark, New Jersey 07102, on August 21, 2008,
   commencing at 9:30 a.m.



2 ALIGN=center> E X H I B I T S
Petition of Concerned Residents of New Jersey for Reliability of Electric Transmission Systems with Limitations on Vegetation Clearances Consistent with Established National Standards48


    I want to, first of all, welcome all of the elected officials and representatives from elected officials here today and I want to welcome members of the public here today.
    The reason we're having this hearing is very simple: We heard you and we heard the concerns that you have. And I'm just going to go through some items here before we get started, some of it which is going be a little background and so on.
    First of all, my name is Joe Fiordaliso. I'm a commissioner on the Board of Public Utilities and on behalf of the entire Board I welcome you here today. And, obviously, I will chair the meeting.
    From Board Staff we have a number of people here: Victor Fortkiewicz, Nusha Wyner, Ricky John, Andrea from our legal department is here, and if I forgot anybody -- our Chief of Staff Noreen Giblin is here. If I forgot anybody, it doesn't mean I don't love you. It's just I didn't see you.
    The BPU commissioners have been very engaged in this important matter and the need to take into account environmental and aesthetic conditions in the context of electric transmission and distribution reliability programs.

    By way of background, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, NERC, has the responsibility to establish standards to increase the reliability of the national electric transmission system.
    The standards authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC -- so we have NERC and FERC -- require transmission line owners -- PSE&G, JCP&L, Atlantic City Electric and Rockland -- to minimize the threat of power outages from vegetation within and adjacent to transmission right-of-ways.
    In 2004 the Board of Public Utilities initiated its own rulemaking process with comprehensive stakeholder input that led to a rule adoption in 2006. Those rules which add an expiration date of February 2008 were readopted in February of 2008.
    The implementation of programs by the state's four electric companies address long-term operational deficiencies. It has led to a significant improvement in reliability for the citizens and businesses of the State of New Jersey.
    Because of the continued input and concerns from citizens and stakeholders, the BPU commissioners in May directed staff to initiate a new rulemaking process to review the regulations once again. And I might add
into that, even though they are citizens, but the input of a number of elected officials, some of whom are represented here today, has really led to this proceeding.
    At today's stakeholder meeting you will have an opportunity to express your views with other interested parties present. Many of you have already taken advantage of the BPU's list server to post your comments. This will not be your last opportunity to be heard. And let's underline that. This will not be your last opportunity to be heard.
    At such time the Board proposes modifications to the current regulations and it is published in the New Jersey Register, you will be able to file formal comments. There will also be a public hearing on any proposed modification to the rules. So you will have another opportunity to see what we come up with and then express your comments, your concerns, your support at that time.
    As a commissioner who has devoted a significant amount of my own time in site visits and discussions with citizens and elected officials, I can assure you that I am very interested in hearing from you this morning. I thank all of you who are present for your interest and for the courtesies we extend to each
other today.
    And as I said initially, the reason we're here is because we heard your voices and we want to respond in the best possible way to your concerns with the caveat that reliability of the delivery of power to the 8.7 million people in the State of New Jersey is protected.
    So with that, do we have a sign-in sheet?
    I would like to first recognize, if I may, an assemblyperson who has been vocal and who has been a driving force in initiating these proceeding.
    Assemblywoman Karrow, if you would like to start.
    ASSEMBLYWOMAN KARROW: Thank you, Commissioner. I appreciate this very much.
    This is outstanding that these rules have been reopened and on behalf of my constituency in Hunterdon and Warren Counties I want to say thank you for listening and opening these up.
    And I want to start by just stressing an enforcement or possibly a better definition of the moratorium that is currently enacted which seems to have different definitions depending on which power company you talk to; and until this is all settled to urge the BPU to create a better standard on this moratorium.

    My understanding of moratorium is that nothing is supposed to be taken down unless there's an emergency. Again, depending on who you speak with from the power companies, emergency seems to have a different definition. We have had power companies tell us emergencies include buffer areas because they can see vegetation growing huge in a year which is just not physically possible for any tree at all.
    So especially since we're getting into the winter months when vegetation doesn't grow, I would really urge the BPU to adopt something more specific and standardize it and enforce it because my mayors continue to be extremely stressed out over still having to look over everybody's shoulders constantly. So I just want to start my comments with that, that while we're in this process to please get them to stop.
    I did submit written comments to the BPU on several occasions. I believe the latest was July 21st. Since that time, I've met with my stakeholders in Hunterdon and Warren Counties and just want to emphasize or reemphasize a few points and just to summarize it. I don't want to take up too much time.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And, Assemblywoman, those written comments will be incorporated into the official record.

    ASSEMBLYWOMAN KARROW: But the emphasis I would like to make today is really about allowing the utility companies some more latitude to not have the strictest standards in the country. Certainly, Pennsylvania adopted standards that are less strict than New Jersey, as did New York State, and they serve mass cities that are much bigger than any city that we serve in this state, Philadelphia and New York City by population, and yet they were able to adopt standards that were less strict and less environmentally unfriendly.
    The flexibility especially in rural New Jersey for these power companies is critical. New Jersey too often treats the state as one size fits all and we are extremely diverse. Certainly, my municipalities in Hunterdon County look nothing like the city. We have probably more trees on an acre of land than possibly blocks and blocks and blocks in Newark.
    Agricultural is predominant as one of the biggest economies in my district, as well as in Northwestern New Jersey in general. I represent the 23rd, but it's certainly the case in the 24th, the 25th, the 16th, as well.
    And the Right to Farm Act is a federal act that we have always put as our forefront in making sure
agriculture is a viable economy, and I think that there needs to be heavy sensitivity in rural New Jersey to both agriculture, plus the environmentally sensitive lands that the power lines are frequently on.
    A lot of these lands have been preserved by public dollars, both Green Acres and Farmland Preservation. And in order to keep the farmland viable, it's critical that there needs to be a better program to allow for trees and nursery stock to grow to maturity. And as far as the environmentally sensitive lands, they need to be treated a little bit more carefully -- cutting on steep slopes, cutting near creeks and streams corridors.
    And then what we have been finding now, most of my constituency is served by private wells and the utility companies have been using more and more -- or their subcontractors more and more Roundup. So not only are they taking down all of the vegetation, they are scorch-earthing vegetation afterwards to make sure they don't have to come back.
    I had a conversation with Commissioner Jackson of the DEP yesterday. She is reviewing my comments and concerns about the lack of following through on Letters of Interpretation, the attitude that the power companies have because they once cut, they can
keep cutting, including in the Highlands which is certainly against the regulations in Highlands region. This policy of using Roundup anywhere on publicly owned lands, she has great concern over that and said the only thing that she allows on public lands that she manages and maintains is BT, certainly not Roundup anywhere near C-1 corridors or near private wells.
    And I guess, you know, I'm just stressing the fact that your rules need to be more environmentally friendly, as well as more friendly towards private property rights.
    My comments emphasize the right for an appeal process; that the burden of having to take down a significant tree needs to be on the utility company; that the property owners and the municipalities should be involved, especially the local government should be given some kind of clear-cutting program and schedule ahead of time so that they can review it because they have a right to have some input, especially if have an active environmental commission which certainly is the case in rural New Jersey. I don't know any municipality that doesn't engage in environmental issues in my district and other districts that I mentioned.
    And I just wanted to thank you for hearing me. And I certainly will be at the public hearing as
well as put in written comments. And I'm sure if I missed anything, my two deputy mayors that are here will fill in the blanks. So thank you.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Thank you very much and thank you for making the trip up here.
    I'm assuming -- and if I'm incorrect, I'm sure somebody will correct me -- I am assuming that the majority, if not all of the speakers of the folks around the table will want to speak today. Is that a correct assumption?
    THE PUBLIC: I may want to make a comment.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And that would be fine. And with your permission since that's primarily the case if we could really just start here with you, Deputy Mayor, and then we'll just go around the table and have everyone who wants to make comments do so.
    MS. ALLEN: Thank you.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Identify yourself and where you are from, that would be helpful.
    MS. ALLEN: My name is Julia Allen. I'm Deputy Mayor of Reddington Township, the eastern-most township in Hunterdon County.
    Our township has had a double strand of high tension wires crossing our township for about 35 years,
possibly longer, and everything has been of little concern to the municipality until the last several years.
    The management prior seemed to be quite satisfactory. There were no problems that I knew of in our township.
    What I'm proposing are a couple of specific suggestions that would help this management -- vegetation management to be sufficiently safe for the utility companies and compatible with our township's goal to protect environmental resources in our township.
    The State of New Jersey has spent about $2 billion over the last ten years protecting conservation and agricultural land. In Reddington that's approximately 8,000 acres and several thousands of these acres are impacted by these two strands of high-tension wires.
    One suggestion I would have is number two in the summary of comments, you say that the somebody suggested that the utility company should develop a vegetation management plan in consultation with local officials at least sixty days before starting any vegetation management activity. I would ask that that system be put in place with the idea that preserved farmland and lands that have specifically been preserved
by the municipality, county, or the state would be given the opportunity -- the municipality would be given or the county or the state would be given the opportunity to develop a specific management plan that meets all your safety requirements but that has a respect for riparian buffers, wildlife habitat protection, water quality and infiltration concerns and the aesthetic characteristics that were part of the incentive to preserve these lands.
    In exchange what I would suggest is that you work with the municipality and the landowners of these lands and ask them to assist you in the management of these. For instance, I don't think there's any argument with the meadow condition in the wire zone. In the border zone if the requirement of the plan was to prohibit the growth of any tree that was over 50 feet at maturity, for instance, that would separate out the oaks and the maples from dogwoods and red buds and the Eastern red cedar, then either the local municipality on public lands or the landowner could assist the utility company in managing those lands. So it would be a plus for both sides.
    We're not asking that you manage them in a certain way, but that we assist you and you merely check with our compliance. That way our incentive was if we
weren't helping you enough, then you would go back to strict enforcement of the regulations; but if we were complying and managing this easement in a way that was safe and according to the best safety regulations and incidentally in a way that was protecting the U shed (phonetic) and the environmental attributes of the property, then it would be a win-win for everybody.
    Secondly, number four in the -- oh -- number five in the summary of comments, compliance with applicable laws and regulations. We've seen complete scorch-earth policy on wetlands and wetlands buffers, irrespective of an approved Letter of Interpretation on wetlands. That's totally unacceptable. The state has flood hazard regulations that require riparian buffers. We would ask that these be respected by the utility companies and again ask them to come up with an accepted management plan, wetlands buffers and riparian buffers.
    In the border zone I would ask that the regulations be changed from prohibiting vegetation that grows to over 15 feet at maturity to vegetation that grows at 50 feet at maturity. And what that does is separate out the large trees from the scrub trees from the small trees like the Eastern red cedar, dogwood, and red bud. If you say 15 feet at maturity, you've essentially eliminated all woody vegetation whatsoever
and that's not necessary as seen by the 35 years where woody vegetation was maintained quite safely in the border zone throughout Hunterdon County.
    In number eight on the summary of comments, allow agricultural crops, such as fruit trees, nursery stock. I would add to that allow projects in conjunction with the natural resource conservation surface where riparian buffer plantings have been put in place at the expense of the federal government and the municipality.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Thank you very much, Deputy Mayor. And I think one of the points you made is absolutely correct, it's the border areas that seem to be the most controversial.
    MS. ALLEN: That's correct.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And ones that we really have to take a look at.
    MS. ALLEN: That's correct.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: As you will note, there is a reporter here who has a very great skill. She types these things and so on. But if you want to submit any written comments, please feel free to give them to her prior to your departure today.
    MS. ALLEN: Okay.
in the record.
    MS. ALLEN: Thank you.
    MR. MULDOWNEY: My name is Michael Muldowney. I'm from Congressman Garrett's office. Congressman Garrett represents the 5th District of New Jersey covering a portion of about half of Bergen County, about four towns in Passaic, the majority of Sussex and Warren Counties, the very top cap of New Jersey.
    We first got involved with this late December. We were getting calls, people concerned with trees coming down, and their first concern was really flooding. The very first call that I had they were just in that area of flooding, what is called Reddington, they felt that removing trees was going to make it even worse.
    Really, the issue was in Upper Saddle River where there was, I guess, conflict with the 69 kV lines. There was a meeting in Upper Saddle River in January, went rather late into the night. BPU staff, Rockland Electric staff was there as well, and it's come a long way.
    We've just -- really our office just got involved since we had a lot of people calling very
concerned and really we just wanted to help them out and get them information. There's just a lot of questions. And I just want to say everybody, your staff at the Board has been great and Rockland has been great, because really it's only been -- it seemed like it happened in our area because it was just where they were in the schedule of vegetation management. They were up in there four years and it was just their luck. It was their time. And I guess maybe down the line we'll be getting more calls when people are up in the schedule for vegetation management. Thank you very much.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Well, thank you and my regards to the Congressman.
    And if there are concerns and comments that you would like to make, feel free to call my office any time.
    MR. MULDOWNEY: Thank you. I appreciate it. We have been letting our constituents know as well. This is a great opportunity to get involved and we keep telling them that.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Good. Very good. Thank you again for being here.
    Deputy Mayor.
    MR. BURDZY: Edward Burdzy, Deputy Mayor, Holland Township, the most western community in
Hunterdon County.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Didn't she say she was the most?
    MR. BURDZY: Eastern.
    MR. BURDZY: We have got the breadth of the county now covered.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: I was getting confused with my east and west I think.
    MR. BURDZY: We are hard against the Delaware River and Musconetcong River. We are also home to Gilbert Generation Station which for many years was a generation station owned by Jersey Central Power and Light, now owned by Reliant Energy.
    Being the home of a large generation station, we have many transmission lines transversi ng our community.
    I believe we have three, Scott, from JCP&L.
    SCOTT: Two.
    MR. BURDZY: Two. And one from PSE&G.
    To give you an example of the scorched-earth policy that some companies seem to be engaging in, thirty years ago -- approximately thirty years ago we decided in our community that we needed a fire house. And we put it at a busy intersection in town, at the top
of the hill because it's always easier to get fire trucks to go down a hill to a fire than it is uphill.
    We talked to the residents in an adjacent development and we promised them that we would establish a buffer zone of trees so that noise of the fire company operating 24/7, diesel trucks, drills going on, etcetera, would be mitigated.
    Five years ago a contractor for FirstEnergy came in and did a slash-and-burn, cut all the 30-foot pine trees down, basically without consulting anyone. It has created an eyesore. They left debris on the ground. And they planted some trees afterwards, after JCP&L themselves came in and decided to put some new trees in and clean up the contractor's mess.
    Now, we understand that the trees that JCP&L planted would mature at a greater heighth than 15 feet and at some point they recommend that they're going to have to take those down. It's a visually stunning sight. If you visit us, you would see mature trees beyond it for the rest of the subdivision which did not fall in the wire zone. But as you're looking at the subdivision, you're looking at private backyards with swimming pools, with play areas for the children which are now affected by this policy of cutting down the trees.

    The second concern we have is the seemingly disconnect between the contractors and the power companies themselves.
    When Scott and Hannah Massacoy (phonetic) from Jersey Central Power and Light came out to a public meeting in our community, which the Assemblywoman also attended, they told us that anyone who was refusing to allow people -- their contractors onto their property, they could refuse and Scott would take care of it and actually come out and deal with each of the homeowners to explain what they were going to do, how large-scale they were going to do their projects, etcetera. And we have had several instances where this has not occurred and contractors have come in and they've taken down trees. We've reported this to Scott and I've got to say that JCP&L and Scott and Hannah jumped on it and went after the contractors.
    As recently as yesterday, I received a call from the constituent who had been told by a representative of the power company that they would work with them in trying to preserve some mature ornamentals that he had on his property. His property also has some meadowland which grants access to the power company to maintain their lines, etcetera. And the day after he spoke to the representative, he gets a letter from the
contractor saying, this is the contractor, this is when they're going to come out to do the work and, you know, quote me being very upset about this. So there seems to be some disconnect there.
    We also are very concerned about preserved land in our community as well, particularly in regard to the herbicides. All of our water within the community is either a public well or private wells. Use of herbicides in any of these areas can lead to a degradation of the water which is providing potable water to our residents.
    We are also concerned about the wildlife and the natural flora that exists in these environmentally sensitive areas. We have a number of trout production streams, certified trout production streams in our community and, of course, many, many Category C1 streams in Holland Township.
    We have been prevented as a community from going on to some Green Acres land to maintain that land because of the restrictions from DEP and the power companies feel that they have the right to go on there to maintain their right-of-ways and put down herbicides, etcetera.
    The recommendation that we would support, especially for the border zones, would be to allow
residents to enter into maintenance agreements with the power companies themselves. This way that they would be able to prune their trees when they started exceeding the heights that they could be mutually agreed to and maintain their ornamentals.
    If they did not maintain them then, of course, the power company would have the right to go in and do what they must to protect their right-of-way.
    One of the questions I asked at the public meeting and it was a question that to this date has not been answered by anyone, I asked them within my community with these three major transmission lines going through it, when was the last time a tree caused a power outage on the transmission lines. No one has answered me to this date.
    I can tell you of the hundreds of times that it has happened on the service lines in the community. As recently as last week when we had a windstorm come through and there were several outages in our community in the service area because of trees along the street right-of-ways.
    But again I would urge the Commission and the Commissioner and Board of Public Utilities to take residents, especially in rural areas, into consideration. We understand the necessity to maintain
the power lines and transmission lines in our communities, but we would like it to be done in a friendly manner that respects the property rights of the residents of our community.
    Thank you very much.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Thank you very much and I appreciate you coming here and sharing your thoughts and ideas with us because they are helpful.
    Welcome, Melissa.
    MS. NICHOLS: Thank you, Commissioner.
    Melissa Nichols with Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow's office. The Assemblywoman asked me just to further clarify some of the notification requirements that we've heard directly from constituents when she met with her constituents after the formal commission period closed on the 21st.
    What they requested and what I think the Assemblywoman would like to consider is that when notification takes place, that it's a very formal process where a date is given when work will commence, when it will be cleaned up -- and when it will be completed and when it will be cleaned up and that that notice be cc'd to the municipalities so that they are fully knowledgeable what's going to happen in the municipality and that work -- it can't go on for
extended periods of time.
    Some people have complained that they received notice in January and then like five months later they come and do the work. Well, people assume the moratorium comes into effect; that they were no longer going to be having work done on their property.
    So we just would like the notification process to be extremely clear with dates truly established and that work can only be done during that time.
    ASSEMBLYWOMAN KARROW: And I just want to take a second and just reemphasize what my deputy mayors. The difference between those public properties and the private properties, as well as the difference between under the power lines and the border areas is really significant. This whole issue about this heavy use of Roundup, you have to use Roundup at a completely undiluted full strength to kill woody vegetation at any age. It can be a 3-month old maple and unless you use completely 100-percent-strength Roundup, you will not kill it.
    The idea that that is being used now to kill all vegetation under the power lines is extremely disturbing for all of the property owners that drink on
those wells, as well as the Commissioner of the DEP. And, you know, it's really -- I don't mean this in a terribly disparaging way, but it's laziness by somebody who doesn't want have their companies to come back and maintain.
    The contract idea of allowing the power company to get into some kind agreement with the environmental commission to the governing bodies on the public areas, as Deputy Mayor Allen just suggested, we think is a good idea to work with those environmental commissions and governing bodies to establish a way to maintain a lower understory, under the power lines, to keep the riparian rights -- the riparian understory in good condition. And the idea of -- in the buffer areas to allow private property owners to have maintenance contracts where they are responsible for pruning on private property, especially with trees that are so close to the edge or just within the first 10 feet of the buffer where they can maintain them themselves in a much more sightly way than the power companies contractors will maintain them.
    Again, it would be a legal contract that if the homeowners fails to prune properly or just lets it go, the rights would revert back to the power company under a contract. And that's not a hard thing to do and
not everybody wants to do it. But certainly we have private property owners who do want to do that.
    So I just wanted to put in those couple of points as well.
    Thank you, Commissioner.
    MS. SPACH: Good morning. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide input with respect to the New Jersey Vegetation Management Rules.
    My name is Rebecca Spach and I'm with FirstEnergy. I am the Director of the Vegetation Management.
    FirstEnergy is the parent company of Jersey Cental Power & Light. As an acute stakeholder in the process, JCP&L has already submitted their input regarding the rules, as did the other New Jersey utilities as of July 21st, 2008, and in prior comments also we submitted them to the Board.
    JCP&L supports that the Board is required to adopt appropriate standards to help ensure the delivery of high quality, safe and reliable electric service to utility customers. We also agree with Board that an effective vegetation management program is essential to maintaining the reliability of an electric system.
    JCP&L has implemented its vegetation
management program in accordance with the rule since it was adopted in December of 2006.
    FirstEnergy's long-distance transmission lines provide electricity to distribution systems which serve approximately four and a half million customers, and those customers reside here in New Jersey and the State of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
    And a key component of maintaining safe and reliable electricity to our customers is that our transmission lines are free from incompatible vegetation. Now, unlike distribution lines, these transmission lines are interconnected to the national grid to ultimately transport energy to general plants across the country to millions of end users. Transmission lines act as a power pathway or a superhighway, if you will, to electricity to other electric service providers.
    JCP&L believes that the public interest clearly will be best served by having this necessary vegetation management regulation in place which helps to ensure that utilities are permitted to fulfill their obligation to maintain their transmission lines rights-of-way free from incompatible vegetation.
    Effective vegetation management programs provide utilities access to inspect, maintain, and
repair the transmission facilities and eliminate the threat of tree-related interruptions. As utilities look to enhance reliability and safety, it is important that we enforce our existing utility easements regarding overhead lines. Contact between transmission lines and any part of the tree could be a dangerous situation for any person in close proximity or it could result in a widespread power outage.
    As you mentioned earlier this morning, today there are mandatory and enforceable federal reliability standards which transmission line owners and operators, such as FirstEnergy, must strictly adhere to. The transmission vegetation management standards as developed through NERC and authorized by FERC are intended to improve the reliability of the electric system across the entire country. And in doing so, this would eliminate transmission outages that would occur from within the right-of-way and minimize outages that would occur from vegetation that potentially would fall from adjacent to the rights-of-way.
    I think also that it's well-known that transmission owners can be fined as much as a million dollars per day if found to be in violation with these federal standards. Electric utility company's compliance with these mandatory standards is crucial to
serving the general public and this is a responsibility that we take very seriously.
    I thank the Board for the opportunity to provide these general comments on behalf of JCP&L and for working with all key stakeholders in a collaborative process to finalize the Vegetation Management Rules that continue to help ensure the delivery of high quality, safe and reliable electric service.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Thank you very much for coming today and sharing your ideas and thoughts with us. We really appreciate it.
    MR. RICHTER: Good morning. My name is David Richter. I'm an attorney with PSEG Service Corporation and I'm here on behalf of Public Service Electric and Gas Company.
    One thing I wanted to clarify before I began was there was some mention about a moratorium that the Board placed back in March. PSE&G's understanding is that the moratorium has been lifted pursuant to June 4th Board letter. So I just wanted to clarify that and perhaps the Board at the end of the hearing could clarify its position regarding moratorium.
    I think it's important to note why we're here and how we got here. And we got here because
one week ago today was the five-year anniversary of Northeast Blackout which took out power to eight states and caused billions of dollars in damages and the cause of that blackout or at least the trigger to that blackout was actually a tree sagging and arcing over into a transmission line. There were certainly other issues involved there, but that was the triggering that started the cascading effect of the blackout.
    So certainly trees are a very dangerous situation when they're around transmission lines. They can cause significant damage. They can cause significant blackouts. And they can cause safety issues with people around the area.
    In response to that blackout, as you mentioned, FERC and NERC provided the federal standards for vegetation management. It was mentioned that utilities can be fined up to a million dollars if they fail to abide by these standards.
    Well, in fact, recently FERC did issue substantial fines to utilities for failure to follow these federal regulations. So I think it's very important to note that failure to follow the federal regulations, regardless of what this Board does, could impose significant penalties on to the utilities.
    However, given that New Jersey is the most
densely populated state, PSE&G's position is that the NERC standards don't go far enough to protect the transmission lines in this state. I know there's some mention about rural New Jersey and urban New Jersey and different areas, but the transmission lines are important -- the same importance all over the state. They provide electricity not only to the residents of New Jersey, but throughout the Northeast. And a trip out in rural New Jersey will have the same effect as a trip out in urban New Jersey.
    Since December of 2006 when the Board first implemented its statewide vegetation management practice, PSE&G has consistently performed vegetation management according to those regulations and it's important to note that PSE&G has not had a single transmission line trip-out due to vegetation since they started implementing these regulations.
    Before that, before the regulations, there were a couple of trip-outs. I don't have the exact numbers and, if necessary, will be happy to provide them to the Board.
    Therefore, I think PSE&G strongly believes that vegetation management regulations are necessary in order to maintain safe and reliable electric service. What these regulations allow utilities to do are more
than just protect the reliability of the line. They allow the utility to remove any threat of an interruption caused by a tree. They allow the utility to limit the ability of any trees adjacent to the right-of-way to fall onto the conductors. They allow quicker access to set equipment to down or repair a line which will allow the circuit to be back in service a lot sooner and limit the damages caused by that outage. It also allows the utility to perform live line maintenance.
    And if anybody knows what live line maintenance is, is the utilities actually fly a helicopter adjacent to the transmission lines and tie on to the lines while they're live and to repair the lines so that the line doesn't have to come out of service during this repair. This saves a lot of money and it allows the electricity to keep flowing and the residents to still have electric power.
    Vegetation management also provides a safe environment for the residents around the right-of-way. Now, I know certainly that's important to the utility.
    Again, I mentioned that transmission lines that have trip-outs with trees not only cause the line to trip-out, but also cause significant damages. Many times the trees will be damaged and anyone in the
surrounding area could be injured by that. So it's very important from a safety perspective as well.
    This Board has a difficult balancing act. And you have to balance the desire to allow the trees to remain on the right-of-way and the need to protect the reliability of the transmission lines.
    I think an important thing to note is that a lot of these lines predate the residential subdivisions around them. Some of these lines -- for instance, PSE&G's earliest lines are from 1928. The residents came to the surrounding area. Again, this is the most densely populated state. There's no area for residents to come to anymore. The right-of-ways had to be a part of that situation.
    So the fact that the utilities have easements on these areas which predate the residents and allow in many cases the utilities to remove all the trees on those lines has to be considered in this situation.
    PSE&G has submitted several comments, the most recent of those comments were on July 21st, 2008, and PSE&G obviously will be happy to continue to work with the Board to develop standards which are satisfactory to everybody.
    Thank you very much.

    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Thank you. And thank you for sharing your ideas. And I just want to make it clear that this Board will do nothing that's going to compromise the reliability of energy to be supplied to 8.7 million people.
    And you're right, there is an balancing act, and we are constantly, this Board, in a balancing act with whatever comes before this Board trying to weigh what's beneficial for our residents, what's beneficial for our ratepayers, what's beneficial to our utilities, and the reliability of service being supplied to a corridor that is the most densely populated corridor in the United States. So we're not going to compromise that by any stretch of the imagination.
    However, that being said, I think it's important that we collectively come together to try to find acceptable rules that in no way compromise that reliability, but also in some way help to satisfy the needs of those people who live along those lines.
    So I think that's why we're here to hear those ideas and getting those ideas hopefully will help us to formulate rules. As I said in the beginning that once we do that, you will have another opportunity, everyone, to come here and throw the tomatoes or whatever you want to throw at me, but it will in no way
compromise that reliability, also trying to weigh what's beneficial to the residents who live along those lines.
    MR. WEYANT: Good morning.
    Don Weyant from PSE&G, regulatory leader.
    MR. WEYANT: I would just like to echo something that David had said. Back in February the four utilities in the state had submitted to Board Staff tree contacts on transmission lines since the December '06 rules went into effect and for years prior to that. So that information is available.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
    Anyone on that side of the table want to make any?
    MS. WYNER: Well, I was going to ask, you now, I found this very interesting because I think some very good issues were raised and maybe just finish all the comments.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Your name, please?
    MS. WYNER: Nusha Wyner. I'm so sorry.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Not everybody knows you, Nusha.
    MS. WYNER: I guess I'm getting to
    I'm Nusha Wyner. I'm the Director of Energy Division over at the Board and we've been dealing with these Vegetation Management Rules for a very, very long time. And I am hearing things that I think are very interesting today and, frankly, I would like to hear the utilities' response to the suggestion of residential maintenance contracts and the -- also would like to see if the utilities would like to respond to the request for a better notification, more communication that would be involved in the vegetation management process.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And, of course, the utilities don't have to respond today or right this moment. If you certainly want to think about that and submit some written comments relative to that, that's certainly acceptable.
    MR. RICHTER: Absolutely.
    This is David Richter again from PSE&G.
    I just want to make one comment and notification I think that's very important. PSE&G is certainly in favor of setting forth strict notification requirements, communication with both residents, the municipalities, and whoever else wants communication, I think is very important to this entire process.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And communication
is important in any process. When we're dealing with human beings: Communication, communication, communication. Like real estate where it's location. But we're talking communication and that's extremely important. We have to, as a regulatory body, communicate and those that we regulate have to communicate also to the residents that they are serving and that kind of communication dispels a lot of unnecessary difficulty down the line I think.
    Sir, you had wanted or might want to say something.
    MR. McBRIDE: Yes.
    I tell you we are almost efficient sometimes.
    MR. McBRIDE: I'm Don McBride, I'm the former chair of the --
    THE COURT REPORTER: You have to come up. I can't hear you.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: It's important that this person hears you.
    Thank you, Mr. McBride. Just push that button at the bottom and bring it close because, you know, we're dealing with the state here so these are not state-of-the-art equipment.

    MR. McBRIDE: Don McBride. I'm former chairman of the Raritan Valley Group, the Sierra Club and on the executive committee. I'm also member of IEEE who wrote the requirements referred to in the federal requirements. I also, forty years ago as a statistician for Pacific Bell, worked on the cost study for vegetation management on telephone lines so I'm aware of the issues; and as having spent thirty years in the Bell Telephone Company, I'm aware of the trade-offs between reliability and costs.
    About a year -- a little over a year ago Sierra Club started getting a lot of phone calls from people asking for help because of this vegetation management tree cutting. I went out and observed a couple of places in Bridgewater and Reddington where trees were being cut down that even at maturity would not have come within 30 feet of an electric power line which is four times the clearance specified that's provided in the national regulations.
    Over the last year or so, I've attended several meetings. Sierra Club agreed. They asked us for help. We went to the executive committee, looked at requirements, and looked at what was going on and decided that we would offer our support to homeowners and townships that were working on this. So I attended
several meetings.
    The one thing I found confusing is that the reasoning seems to change. I feel like maybe I'm dealing with Maxwell Smart here. We need to clear the vegetation so we can see terrorists was the first one that was used. Then it was ice storms causing a tower to fall over and the need to get in quickly to repair the tower. Room for the condor to maneuver. The condor apparently is a big cherry picker that is needed to erect or repair a tower.
    The Board has mentioned saving the ratepayers money. Population density. The Governor's office has mentioned the fact that New Jersey is at the end of a regional transmission organization which includes I think it's called JPM.
    MR. McBRIDE: PJM. And since we're served by only one end from the South, we are more at risk, although I know Rockland Electric which goes into New York also provides service to North Jersey so I don't know why we couldn't come with an agreement to provide service from the North. And, in fact, there's that whole new Susquehanna-Roseland proposal to put a new line in up to the north which Sierra Club also has some problems with.

    I commend the Board for taking the time to look at all these issues because some of them do have merit and we need to figure out which ones are ones that have to be reviewed. However, we agree with all the comments here that New Jersey has gone beyond the federal requirements. It's interesting, in all the arguments I heard, I don't recall ever hearing a tree contacting a wire was an issue because everybody agrees that we don't want any trees that are at maturity can hit a wire or come within the minimum distance for arcing.
    Let's see what else did I have here.
    One of the questions, PSE&G mentioned that there was a submission regarding this issue. It's not on a list server so I am wondering if people have submitted things outside the normal process that we will have a way to see what the submission was.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: It may just have not just gotten up there yet. I don't know.
    MR. WEYANT: If you're referring to the submission about tree contacts that was submitted in response to Board questions to the utilities back in February, it was a data request.
    MR. McBRIDE: You mentioned something in June. July.

    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: It may have been a filing rather than gone up on the server.
    MR. RICHTER: Yes. July 21st, 2008, we made a filing, sent it to Kristi Izzo, comments to the vegetation management regulations.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And they become part of the official record.
    MS. WYNER: Yes. We received that response and I do recall it but not precisely. But there may have been one more and haven't been any since.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And they will become a part of the official record.
    MS. WYNER: Yes.
    MR. McBRIDE: How then -- how would we access the official record? Is that on your web server? Is it a written request to get that?
    MS. WYNER: I see no reason we can't put it on the list server and everybody can see it.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Is that acceptable?
    MR. McBRIDE: Yes. Fine.
    I think that was it.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Well, thank you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    Is there anyone else who would like to make
any comments? I'm here at your disposal.
    MR. McBRIDE: I have one other thing. I just came back from California. I spent the first half of my life, as I mentioned, at Pacific Bell and California. And as I was driving around, I was watching what they're doing in vegetation management, as California has a large population also, and their vegetation management was nowhere near as strict as New Jersey just from an observation. I haven't looked at the public utility commission requirements for California.
    There's a seat here and if the Deputy Mayor wants to part with her microphone.
    MR. BARNES: I'm sure she'll share with me.
    Good morning. My name is David Barnes. I live in Tewksbury Township which is the northern-most Township in Hunterdon County.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Did we get the southern-most township of Hunterdon County?
    ASSEMBLYWOMAN KARROW: I'm in central Hunterdon.
    MR. BARNES: I serve on the Forestry
Advisory Board in Tewksbury Township, and I'm also an employee of the State of New Jersey. I work for Rutgers as an internal auditor. But I am here just representing myself today.
    I have always relied on government and its elected officials and appointed bodies to do what's in the best interests of the people. And I believe that this Board has done that in its long and storied history. I've been sitting here though, and I'm looking at the wall and right over here is your mission statement, and in the middle of your mission statement it says to enhance the quality of life of the citizens of New Jersey.
    I have watched my neighbors cry as trees have been unnecessarily taken down in their yards, ornamental trees, other trees that had been planted that had been there for years, longer than the transmission lines have been there. I just don't understand how watching my neighbors cry is enhancing the quality of their lives.
    I have listened and read most of the information about this. I submitted a white paper to the BPU back in May of this year. I did an analysis of the -- the documentation and the -- the standards and the research that was used and then cited in N.J.A.C. as
being the basis for the management guidelines that you have implemented. And one of the things -- I've read FERC, I've read NERC, I've read IEEE, NESC, OSHA, ANSI, A-B-C, Y-O-U, M-O-U-S-E. So I have read everything.
    One of the critical elements of all of the reports was that this was a failure of First -- and the power outage of 2003 or 2005 was a failure of FirstEnergy. It was their equipment did not respond like it was supposed. Their people did not respond like supposed to when a tree made contact with a line. And, yet, now we have implemented these -- what a lot of people -- I have read the list serve -- most people consider to be excessive standards.
    There's thousands of tree contacts everyday with electrical lines. There's probably hundreds of them with distribution lines across the country. None of them caused the problem that was caused by FirstEnergy's failure to react and to respond properly.
    I would like to see this Board, rather than enforcing the strict scorched-earth policies, I'd like to see the money that the utility companies are spending on this be spent in retraining their people in upgrading and maintaining their old ancient equipment. You know, we're talking about the infrastructure here. There's things out there that have not been maintained or
repaired in years now, the utility company equipment. And I really believe that that is the key to the reliability.
    If a tree falls on a line, there's a trip-out, 8 seconds later the line goes back in. If the tree is not still on the lines, the line will go back in and no one will ever know about it except that your lights are blinking when you get back home.
    What we're doing now I really believe this is overkill. I believe it's reactionary to a problem and in my heart I believe that it is unnecessary.
    And, Mr. Commissioner, I'd like to thank you for your time today and for the work of this Board. And that's all I have to say. Thank you.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Well, thank you, Mr. Barnes, for sharing your ideas and your thoughts with us. And the reason we are here is what you mentioned: We are concerned about quality of life and we're concerned about reliability; and, hopefully, we can come to some rules that will achieve both goals.
    MR. BARNES: Thank you very much, sir.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: I appreciate your time.
    Yes, Assemblywoman.
    I just want to say that I really -- I do really appreciate this hearing. I also appreciate what the power companies have said, though I've had staff of theirs tell me to my face that it's killing their own staff to have to take down trees and that they don't buy into the idea that all the vegetation that's been coming down has to come down. But the comment that utility companies like the policy that any threat to a power outage -- that they have to remove any threat to a power outage, nobody can tell me grass that's on the ground that are being Roundup are a threat to a power outage and nobody can ever convince me that a scrub cedar that's going to take sixty to eighty years to hit 50 feet is a threat to an outage right now. Nobody can convince me that trees 10 feet or even 20 feet or even 30 feet into a buffer area are going to create a significant threat to a power outage.
    No one in my municipalities have argued that trees that can grow high -- maples, oaks, beeches -- in the power right-of-way itself should not come out. Nobody. You will never hear any of us say that we don't agree that there are threats that should come out, that it can create arcing. But this is about understory. This is about water. People have lived without
electricity on this planet for a very long time. No one has lived without water. And so the threat to water quality, not only through Roundup, but through the complete disturbance of designated wetlands by the DEP, by cutting on steep slopes that can create massive erosion, as well as in the buffer areas, that our quality of life issues for these property owners, those things are extremely concerning to myself and my constituency.
    And I have heard what Mr. McBride said about how many different excuses, I have heard them all myself. Everyone of those that he mentioned have been told to me. We need to have helicopters check out the lines for terrorism, -- heard that one. That changed to getting big equipment in. And that changed to the whole thing about lines.
    And I also agree with Mr. Barnes about -- and have heard that too that the trigger originally five years ago was a tree, but it was human failure that ultimately created the massive cascading.
    And I would urge the BPU to look at this very specifically for public properties with water and that are environmentally sensitive, private properties where property owners are willing to enter into agreements and specifically bring out the difference
between under the wires and the buffer areas.
    And as my friend from the PSE&G mentioned earlier, I would also love to get some clarification on this moratorium: Where it is; where it's going; and what it all means to get some relief now. Because we had somebody cut in Holland Township who didn't even know what street he was on during the moratorium. And that street wasn't supposed to be cut. And when he showed up, he told the homeowner he didn't even know what street he was on. He was just cutting.
    As I indicated -- is there someone else?
    Yes, ma'am.
    MS. LONGO: One very short comment.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Come up and identify yourself, please.
    MS. LONGO: My name is Jane Longo, Montvale, New Jersey, citizen of New Jersey.
    The question is, I just wanted to submit. We had submitted a petition on the list serve.
    MS. LONGO: And I have an additional 200 signatures in support of that so if I could just submit that.
    And I want to thank you for agreeing to
review the Vegetation Management Rules and thank you very much to everyone else for having the desire to have an open mind and see this through to something better for everyone, the citizens of New Jersey and the utilities. We need to work together in concert, not at odds. So thank you very much.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And thank you. Thank you for coming to the hearing.
    Is there anyone else?
    Ma'am, did you have your hand up?
    MS. GIULIANO: Yes, I did.
    Good morning.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Good morning. Welcome.
    MS. GIULIANO: My name is Gail Giuliano. I'm from Upper Saddle River, and I'm at the bottom of the food chain. I'm a resident who faces the prospect of having her property clear-cut by this mandate.
    Now what is sorely missing -- what is sorely missing in this whole process is the good ideas and concerns that the homeowners have. I know that we've spoken about public property, but I think that if you invite people, you'll get some good public ideas about how to reach some sort of agreement on how you can better protect the environment and our property.

    We also have wells in Upper Saddle River. We're concerned. I know you say that these are safe chemicals, but there is no such thing as a safe chemical. Down the road --
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: I never said they were safe chemicals.
    MS. GIULIANO: Well, not you, but other people from the BPU have told me and from my utility company, Rockland County has assured us that they are safe.
    So my recommendation is that there's such a disconnect. Nobody can disagree with needing access to the lines, with safe power, with reliable power. We happened to have 69 kilovolt wires which end in local substations would prevent a cascading effect like that big blackout five years ago.
    So my recommendation is that you invite the public to give their comments, not just comments, to give their ideas, real ideas on how we can reach some sort of compromise that would protect the environment and the people's property. Because right now when you tell me, you're going to come in, we have a hundred foot-wide easement. We've lived there for 42 years. We have never ever seen the utility companies have to come in to work on our wires after a power failure, never,
nor have my neighbors. And to try and keep a hundred-foot-wide corridor clear and to clear-cut is just ridiculous. It's just ridiculous. I don't mean to be name-calling names, but it's just a 40-foot tree, say, 40 feet from the wires is very unlikely, except in the most dire weather conditions to come down and toppled over or even touch a wire.
    So that is my -- I would urge everybody to invite us in to give ideas on how we can come to a -- some sort of compromise about this.
    Thank you.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Well, thank you for coming --
    MS. GIULIANO: Thank you.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: -- here. That is the purpose of this hearing, to invite -- and it was noticed according to law properly to invite people to come in and submit their comments and talk about it and so on.
    I personally was out, not only in all four corners of Hunterdon County, but in a variety of other locations throughout the State of the New Jersey regarding vegetation management, speaking to residents, trying to get their ideas, trying to understand their concerns and so on. And the residents, contrary to what
you said, are not at the bottom of the food chain, they're at the top of the food chain and that's why we're here.
    MS. GIULIANO: I am glad to hear that. Come to Upper Saddle River.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: You invite me; I'll be there.
    MS. GIULIANO: And it's very difficult for people to come here during the week.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: I understand that.
    MS. GIULIANO: Okay. Thank you.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Yes, sir. Please come up.
    MR. FISHER: I'm Montville Township in Morris County. My name is Charles Fisher. You and I spoke back in May I believe.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Yes, we did. And I've spoken to Senator Pennacchio a number of times regarding this.
    MR. FISHER: We'll go have coffee and take a good look at my new football field.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Give me your address and I'll be there.
    MS. WYNER: I would just like to respond to
the resident from Upper Saddle River that the 69 kV lines will not be treated as transmission lines. I think that is pretty clear. That should not be any problem in that area with those lines.
    MS. GIULIANO: Could you remove the word "usually" from the mandate then?
    MS. WYNER: No, I think it says above 69 kV.
    MS. GIULIANO: It says "usually."
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: Okay. That is one thing that we can look at as we go through these regulations.
    MS. GIULIANO: Ambivalent.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And, you know, Government is -- many times folks believe that government is not responsive and on occasion it is. It is incumbent upon all of us as citizens to keep government's feet to the fire too and to make sure that things are done appropriately and properly for the benefit of all and that's incumbent upon all of us to ensure.
    Mr. McBride, you had something else?
    MR. McBRIDE: Yes.
    Don McBride again. A couple of more comments, just a follow-up to yours. When I first went to the Sierra Club, first chapter, they told me don't
waste my time, that you're not going to listen, and I do commend you. That turned out to be wrong.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: I am certainly happy they have such an optimistic view of us.
    MR. McBRIDE: I did want to echo what Assemblywoman Karrow mentioned about the interim requirements. I looked up the letter and it's kind of vague.
    PSE&G was under the impression that the moratorium was ended. The moratorium was ended, but the interim guidelines refer to things like integrative vegetation management and says the procedural relaxation relates to scheduling of certain vegetation practices, as well as giving due consideration to cutting, removal, and trimming during the interim periods.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: There is a relaxation that still is in effect. Yes.
    MR. McBRIDE: So I think that needs to be clarified because two weeks after the letter, I got called into Bridgewater and PSE&G was cutting trees 75 feet from the power line that were about 20 to 25 feet high.
    COMMISSIONER FIORDALISO: And someone brought this before, the utilities contract with tree services and folks who go out there and so on and so
forth, and we talked about communication, and that's where we all have an obligation to communicate.
    Is there anyone else?
    All right. As I said at the beginning of the hearing, this will not be your last opportunity to be heard. At such time the Board proposes modifications to the current regulations, and it is published in the New Jersey Register, you will be able to file formal comments. There will also be a public hearing on any proposed modifications.
    If you have additional comments, if you have additional things you want to submit, please do so. The Board will and staff will commence with reviewing those comments, reviewing what was said here today, and comments that we have received previously or before today, and we'll take a careful look at the rules and hopefully come up with something that we will then publish in the New Jersey Register. You will have an opportunity to review those and, as I said again, an opportunity to comment on whatever modifications.
    But let's keep the lines of communication open, not only as residents, as utilities, as commissions to enjoy the fact that we are communicating properly and we're letting one another know exactly what our thoughts are.

    So with that, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to be here today and for sharing your ideas and your thoughts and I will now close the hearing.
    Thank you.
    (Proceedings concluded 10:49 a.m.)

    I, Lorin Thompson, a Notary Public and Shorthand Reporter of the State of New Jersey, do hereby certify as follows:
    I DO FURTHER CERTIFY that the foregoing is a true and accurate transcript of the testimony as taken stenographically by and before me at the time, place and on the date hereinbefore set forth.
    I DO FURTHER CERTIFY that I am neither a relative nor employee nor attorney nor counsel of any of the parties to this action, and that I am neither a relative nor employee of such attorney or counsel, and that I am not financially interested in the action.
   Notary Public of the State of New Jersey
   My commission expires July 26, 2011

       Dated:  August 21, 2008