A group of Monmouth County residents is fighting a proposed system upgrade by Jersey Central Power and Light, claiming the unsightly power lines would sock their property values and could cause potential health problems.

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The proposed Monmouth County Reliability Project would include the installation of a nearly 10-mile, 230-kilovolt transmission line along NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast rail line right-of-way.

According to JCP&L, the proposal would benefit 214,000 customers in the area. But several of these customers appear not to want the help, at least not in a way that adds more poles and wires from Aberdeen to Red Bank.

An online petition against the project currently has more than 2,100 signatures.

"It's bizarre that they're trying to do this," said Middletown resident Sal Aquino, a member of RAGE, Residents Against Giant Electric.

The group fought against a similar plan decades ago before it was ultimately rejected. This week they attended community information events held by the utility company.

"There's a number of concerns," Aquino said. "Number one, first and foremost, is property value."

Aquino insisted values would plummet simply due to the presence of the power line.

"I don't understand how we're supposed to just sit back and a take a $60,000 hit to an investment in our home that we saved and sacrificed all of our lives to be able to provide for our kids," he said.

Ron Morano, a spokesman for JCP&L, said the utility understands this is a sensitive issue, and an expert will evaluate the potential impact on property values and conduct a report. That report will be included in the utility's official filing for the project with the state Board of Public Utilities, which is responsible for denying or approving the project.

Upon the filing, Morano said, the BPU will schedule public hearings on the project.

Members of RAGE, Aquino said, are also concerned with the possible long-term health effects of the high-voltage lines' electromagnetic fields.

According to the World Health Organization, short-term exposure to very high levels of electromagnetic fields can be a health hazard. But there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low levels, as would be the case with routine power lines, is harmful to human health.

The link between electromagnetic fields and cancer remains highly controversial, WHO says. While a number of studies have pointed to an increased risk of leukemia in children with exposure to low frequency magnetic fields in the home, a direct cause-effect link has not been solidified.

"There's 25 children in my neighborhood alone," Aquino said. "There will be buzzing and crackling of the actual power coming through the lines as well."

Morano said the project would bring an additional source of power into the area.

"There are currently two transmission lines that feed this portion of Monmouth County," he said. "If those lines go out, customers in this area will be out of service for four or more days. So this project fulfills the need."

Aquino said if the lines can be buried underground, it would be safer and less damaging for the hundreds of homes in the vicinity of the project.

The utility said underground construction would take much longer and cost four to 10 times more than overhead construction.

Members of RAGE were scheduled to meet with the mayor of Middletown Thursday night.

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