Friday, June 18, 2010

The BP of New Jersey

Our neighborhood is being assaulted by PSE&G.

They have a right of way over our properties for the maintenance of electrical transmission lines. For years, they came every few years to trim branches that could have threatened the lines. They then decided it would be cheaper to simply clear cut our backyards.

Gone would be the character of our properties, with wooded privacy for which we purchased our homes.

Gone would be character of our neighborhood. And about $50-$100K of each properties value, and significant tax rateables for our town. Our township is joining us to stop them.

We have been fighting this for over 10 years. We have allowed them to construct a road across our properties for them to facilitate their periodic maintenance. We have allowed them to cut more and more.In their most recent cutting in May, their employees deemed our properties "safe".

And now, using A specious safety argument, they want to destroy the rest of our properties. They have gone to the BPU and lobbied for more onerous regulations that may be fine for open spaces, but not for private residential neighborhoods.

Just like BP, they want to save money, and they don't care how they do it. They don't care what it does to homeowners, their privacy, their private property and the value of their homes. They don't care what it does to the character of our homes, or neighborhood, or our town, as long as they can save a few bucks. Just like BP.

In recent days we have seen what happens when big companies try to save money with a callous disregard for everything else. This venality and mendaciousness knows no bounds. We refuse to allow it to hap
pen to us.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An Introduction

We are group of residential property owners in Sturbridge Lakes in Voorhees, NJ. The deeds to our properties are subject to an easement that grants PSE&G a right of way for the purpose of the maintenance of vegetation that could affect the electrical transmission lines that run across our properties.

For over thirty years, we have struggled to balance our rights, the rights of private homeowners, with the needs for vegetation management for the safety of electrical lines. We are now faced with a BPU regulation that would upset that balance and drastically and negatively impact our property values, quality of life, and security. We hope that you will be of assistance in fairly resolving this matter that affects us, as well as any residential property owners in this situation, as a matter of public policy.

When many of us originally purchased our homes, we were hardly aware of the electrical lines. The wires were shielded from view by dense stands of indigenous pine trees, oak trees and other native bushes and shrubs. This same vegetation created beautiful, private, and secure back yards that were an essential element in the decision of many of us to purchase our homes. Some of us are the original owners and have lived here for over thirty years.

Unlike many other developments, Sturbridge Lakes was built in what was a naturally wooded area. The covenants of the Strurbridge Lakes Association that govern this private community state:

“in order to preserve the natural environment, each Owner shall not disturb naturally existing vegetation on an area equal to 20% of the square footage of the entire lot as shown on a survey of the lot.”

Prior to 1999, the practice of vegetation maintenance was accomplished with one arborist using a standard pickup truck and chipper through the wooded area that comprised the back of properties to trim those branches that had grown near the lines. There was never a problem with or objection to this practice. never was there a problem or outage related to this condition in the community, the county as a result of this practice, nor in the entire state of New Jersey, to the best of our knowledge.

In 1999, PSE&G unilaterally decided, without consideration of the character, privacy, and therefore the value of the properties on which they held the easement, that they would denude a substantial part of the area, which they did, despite neighborhood objection.

Gone were much of that privacy, character, and a good deal of the value upon which we relied when purchasing our homes. Gone was the security of a wooded back yard: The maintenance “road” created an attractive nuisance when kids with off-road motorcycles decided it was a good new place to ride. Gone, too, through no fault of our own, was our compliance with the rules of our community association.

PSE&G produced a booklet, telling property owners what vegetation would be approved to replace what was destroyed in the area of incursion, but did not offer to reimburse homeowners for the damage done to their properties by virtue of the so-called “maintenance”.

In 2002, once again PSE&G felt that vegetation maintenance was needed. At that point 14 neighbors banded together to oppose further destruction of their properties; privacy, aesthetics, and value. The result was a settlement that granted access across the properties, with an agreement between the parties that sought to preserve as much vegetation as possible, while observing what was necessary for safety, according to PSE&G safety experts. Subsequent replanting according to PSE&G guidelines were then done by individual property owners.

The proposed amendment would require the virtual clear-cutting of our entire back and and/or side yards, leaving nothing standing over 36”. We find this to be completely onerous, unnecessary and unacceptable. Should New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, adopt standards formulated in New York, because of a problem engendered by a total ack of maintenance in Ohio, six years ago? Apparently the new requirements “are very similar to those used in New York State, and comport with the best practices that are widely used in the utility industry…”. Not a single word about the people who own residences on the land or their rights, privacy, security, or being deprived thereof. Where new lines are to be run, where there are no private property owners, where it does not affect the homes and therefore the largest investment of private homeowners, this might be practicable. Here it is not.

The regulations do not take into account an area such as ours, that is residential; that is indeed the entire side and/or back yards of existing homes.

It seems logical that there should be different rules attendant to the maintenance of lines that run through a residential community. A cookie-cutter approach to the subject of vegetation management as proposed is not appropriate or acceptable.

As we understand them, the regulations would simply destroy our neighborhood; our property values, our privacy, our security, and the aesthetic values for which we purchased our homes. This would also negatively impacting the tax base in Voorhees, Camden County, and anywhere that this condition exists in the State of New Jersey, providing no additional safety. How else can the amendment dare to state that there is no negative economic or social impact, when that impact on our properties, neighborhood, and township would be nothing less than catastrophic .

To the best of our information from township and community officials, no communication or notification of this proposal has been made. Rather than fairly and intelligently notifying each county to notify their respective municipalities, to notify actual stakeholders, notice is only made in the New Jersey Register, and it seems between the board and the power company, who seem to be the only “stakeholder” who matters. It is only through our own proactive communication with PSE&G pending a renewal of our agreement with them that we have become aware of the BPU proposed amendments.

This directly affects some 70 properties, and there are environmental, (wetland) and other concerns the effect the entire community of 732 homes. Because safety is an important consideration, it does not mean it is the only consideration. Situations such as this should be “grandfathered in” especially whereas these transmission lines have already received so much attention, and the safety issues resolved to the satisfaction of the court and those with the actual responsibility for them, as well as the owners of the properties.

Why they have received so much attention, is so that PSE&G could save money. PSE&G's motive is purely financial; With a callous disregard for the properties, neighborhoods and communities involved, they have proven to be their own worst enemy, in addition to ours. Had they continued to trim trees periodically and with any consideration that these are peoples’ homes, probably their largest lifetime investment, there would not only never be a safety issue, which there is not now, but they would have spent far less on vegetation management, not to mention law suits, and truly terrible public relations.

It is outrageous that PSE&G would be allowed to remove trees without any regard for the neighborhood or environment. Even the excessive trimming which is often done desecrates the beauty of the trees and can and has ultimately lead to their demise.. Of course the apparently existing amendment, as well as the proposed one leaves 36” because court decisions have held that clear-cutting is illegal. So what is proposed here is not clear-cutting, but what is proposed is a distinction without a difference.

The overall environmental impact is very real, too. The removal of trees
will not be limited to where we live but be throughout the right of way. At a time when we are truly beginning to understand the need to preserve the environment and fight
carbon dioxide emission, why would any consideration be giving to a company
wanting to blatantly cut down trees or deforest an area?