Activists Pipe Up on Pipeline at Public Hearing

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On Thursday, April 26, the only New York public hearing about a proposed natural gas pipeline off the waters of New Jersey and Rockaway, was held at 5 p.m. in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. While the meeting was advertised as a “public comment session,” the process for hearing the public comments was rather, private.

“This is bulls***,” was a common phrase heard around the Best Western Gregory Hotel last Thursday as the dozens of people that showed up to let the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hear their thoughts on the Williams Company’s newest proposed project, the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE), were displeased with the new speaking format. Rockaway locals and other New Yorkers have been battling against natural gas projects proposed for our waters for several years, so many were shocked to find the public hearing format changed for Thursday’s meeting. Instead of convening in one conference room and testifying before all, as at past FERC meetings, those making public comments, whether in support of or against the project, were confined to a waiting room while individuals were selected one by one to enter another room to state their thoughts to FERC.

The meeting was a public comment session on the more than 600-page draft Environmental Impact Statement for Williams’ proposed NESE, released on March 23. Williams, the same company that installed the Rockaway Lateral Project in 2014, a natural a gas pipeline that goes under Riis Park and the bay, and up Flatbush Avenue, says this newest proposal would provide additional natural gas to National Grid to serve customers around New York City. The NESE would have elements in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, but the main portion of the project includes 23.5 miles of 26-inch-diameter pipeline loop from New Jersey to the waters off of Rockaway. This pipeline would start in Middlesex, NJ, would make its way through the ocean, and would connect to the Rockaway Lateral Project.

Since the “public” comments were only permitted in a closed room, it is not known how many showed up in support of the project or against it, but many in opposition of the project attempted to let their voices be heard in other ways. Prior to the start of the meeting, several protestors rallied outside, holding up signs like, “Stop the Williams Pipeline” and “Save the Rockaways.” Then, once inside, abiding by Department of Homeland Security officers’ requests to not “rally” inside the hotel, some of those who spoke to FERC, summarized their comments in the waiting area, while keeping their voices to a minimum, and the response was greatly anti-pipeline.

Kim Fraczek of the Sane Energy Project mentioned several reasons for being against the project. “This will include 23 miles of trenching on our ocean floor that is going to occur and stir up the toxins that have been settling there. We’re now seeing the return of life, the return of endangered species in our area and we want to keep it that way. The Williams pipeline will disrupt that process of bringing life back to our shores,” she said. She also spoke about the necessity of the pipeline, or lack thereof. “We know National Grid is the customer of this pipeline. We know that one of the five chairs of FERC is Cheryl LaFleur, a 27-year veteran and lead of National Grid. We know Cheryl LaFleur is a crooked person and she’s one of the people determining whether this pipeline should be approved or not. Also, according to 2012 reports of our energy necessity for the city of New York, we know we have enough gas to get us through and we’re now investing in renewable infrastructure.” Many mentioned supporting renewable energy alternatives, like wind energy, which very well may be in Rockaway’s future.

Although he couldn’t attend, local Danny Rusciilo’s statement against the pipeline was also read. “How much does Rockaway have to put up with? It only takes one mistake or oversight to cause catastrophic damage from an explosion or fire. Williams Company has a terrible track record when it comes to accidents, a very good reason why we, residents of the Rockaway peninsula do not need to take that chance with the installation of their pipeline. Rockaway already went through one devastation, Superstorm Sandy. We say no to this pipeline, we say no to this Williams Company period. We implore you Governor Cuomo to veto this catastrophe away as you did for the LNG port for the Rockaways,” Ruscillo said.

According to a press release sent by anti-pipeline organizations, other elected officials have spoken out against the project, including Councilman Donovan Richards and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato.

“New York must get serious in our efforts to combat climate change immediately by focusing on clean, renewable energy projects,” Richards said. “We should be talking about tapping into wind energy off our shores or the geothermal energy beneath our feet, not building pipelines. Renewable energy is the future and the faster we get on board the faster we can train New Yorkers for quality green jobs and provide sustainable economic growth for the long term. The Williams Pipeline is the wrong approach for this city, this state and this nation.”

“We have a duty as New Yorkers to protect our environment so that our children and future generations can inhabit it. Today I stand with our community and Civic Organizations against the proposed William’s Pipeline,” Pheffer Amato said. “Together we must take collective actions to preserve our beaches, our marine life, our water quality, and most importantly, protect the hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of residents that could possibly be put at risk.”

The project needs approval by FERC for construction to begin, but another factor has come into play, which has put Williams’ timeline on pause. On April 20, the Department of Environmental Conservation denied a necessary water quality certification for the project, saying that Williams failed to complete its application on time and the environmental review was incomplete, and that the “materials that were submitted to DEC showed potentially significant environmental impacts that raised serious concerns.” This denial has put the project on hold, regardless of the FERC decision, but Williams has an opportunity to complete its application.

For those who missed Thursday’s meeting, public comments are still being accepted through May 14. Comments can be made online or sent by mail. Search “Northeast Supply Enhancement Project” or Docket Number CP17-101-000 on www.ferc.gov to see the whole EIS and to leave an electronic comment.

Photos by Lee Ziesche.

 

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