MIDDLETOWN — During this public hearing, the public actually received a fair chance to speak.

Two months after the first open hearing on Jersey Central Power & Light's proposed 230-kilovolt transmission line along NJ Transit’s North Jersey Coast rail line right-of-way, Monmouth County residents and officials packed an arena Wednesday night on the campus of Brookdale Community College to voice their opinions on the idea.

Dozens of people appeared before Administrative Law Judge Gail Cookson during the five-and-a-half hour event. Not one was in favor of the Monmouth County Reliability Project, which would run nearly 10 miles between Aberdeen and Red Bank.

"I hope and pray that we're a loud enough voice," Middletown resident Shari Martini told New Jersey 101.5 following her public comments. "The safety and health issues so far outweigh the benefits that we will see here. It will really destroy Monmouth County. It will be a huge scar, a desecrated, barren scar."

Middletown resident Shari Martini lives 75 feet from the proposed Monmouth County Reliability Project. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Middletown resident Shari Martini lives 75 feet from the proposed Monmouth County Reliability Project. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

Martini lives 75 feet from the proposed project site. A preliminary design she viewed last year, she said, indicates several feet of her yard — including trees, a shed and fire pit — would need to be cleared to make room for the transmission line.

According to JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano, the actual design of the project has not been finalized yet.

JCP&L said the project is necessary to deliver high-quality, reliable electricity to 214,000 Monmouth County customers.

Michael Maiorana, a resident of Middletown for 11 years, said "if this plan goes through," he will move, along with his family, including two young children.

"I will eat the loss on my home, which we all know will happen," he said. "I had a brother die of leukemia when he was 10 years old. I won't go through that again."

Several residents voiced their concerns over the electromagnetic fields that could be introduced near their homes and the area's schools and athletic fields.

On a JCP&L website devoted solely to the project, the utility noted the proposed levels of magnetic field from the transmission line are similar to levels associated with wood pole distribution lines that have existed throughout the country for nearly 100 years, as well as levels found in homes, businesses, and schools near electrical wiring and appliances.

Jacqueline Lease, a Middletown resident and Monmouth County real estate agent, said she's "been hearing a lot of chatter" from clients and customers who are "very concerned" about the power line proposal.

"It's going to affect me, it's going to affect my business, it's going to affect our towns," Lease said.

Cookson will use the public comments at both hearings, along with arguments made by JCP&L at hearings scheduled for next month, in her decision as to whether the project is necessary.

At the end of the initial public hearing in January — which featured mostly commentary from local lawmakers, officials and the parties involved in a legal battle over the project — Cookson indicated she was unsure if she'd schedule another hearing.

Since that hearing at Middletown High School North, Cookson said, she received stacks of letters from the public, on both sides of the issue. She ordered a second hearing at BCC,  a site chosen by the state Office of Administrative Law and JCP&L in order to provide enough capacity for everyone who wishes to speak. Notice of the hearing was published in area newspapers.

"This is democracy in action," Cookson told the BCC crowd.

Morano said JCP&L elected against sending supporters to speak in favor of the project, but noted there is substantial support.

"We will be sending a list to the administrative law judge," he said.

During the March edition of New Jersey 101.5's "Ask the Governor" program (video below), Gov. Chris Christie did not take a hard stance on either side of JCP&L's proposal, but said upgrades like these are meant to make service more reliable and storm-resistant.

“I understand that people don’t like it in their backyard, but they like the electricity in their house when they turn the switch,” Christie said. “It’s a balance, everybody.”

After receiving a recommendation from Cookson, the Board of Public Utilities will make the ultimate decision on whether the project can move forward. If approved, according to the project's website, construction would begin in August. NJ Transit has not yet given JCP&L the green light to use its right-of-way.

More from New Jersey 101.5:

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM