National Grid’s Chess Game Impacts Restaurant Opening

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After more than a year of working and planning to open up Batesy’s, a new barbeque restaurant on Beach 67th Street, owners Chris Miles and Bill Keating are being told by National Grid that they will not be supplied natural gas due to “supply constraints” following a pipeline project that was rejected by state officials after pushback from the public. 

With the success of PICO on Beach 129th, manager Miles and owner Bill Keating, were thinking about their next dream of bringing a barbecue joint to Rockaway. When the location opened up where Checkers was, they jumped at it. “We love what’s happening down in Arverne and saw it as an opportunity to bring something great to the community,” Miles said. They signed the lease in March of 2018 and hoped to open in six months. “It always takes a little longer,” admitted Miles. But as time progressed, and numerous construction issues plagued the new location, the “little longer” began to stretch itself out.

 One issue arose with a contractor’s poor installment of the kitchen’s hood, which sucks out all the heat and smoke coming from cooking equipment. Batesy’s will feature an open kitchen, which requires a specific type of hood that doesn’t simultaneously absorb the cool or warm air to keep the restaurant temperature comfortable. According to Miles, the first contractor did not know how to install that particular type of hood, so they had to bring another contractor in to redo it. Once the hood is complete, it is standard practice to bring in a fire suppression company to test the equipment before making an appointment with the fire department to clear the restaurant. This process was further delayed for Batesy’s when the fire suppression company failed to catch certain issues, which resulted in the FDNY failing the restaurant. Finally, on the third attempt, the FDNY passed Batesy’s and gave the owners an Ansul letter, which is then given to the licensed plumber who takes the letter to the city, who in turn gives back a letter that shows the establishment has completed all its tests. This document is needed to open up an account with National Grid to receive natural gas and power the establishment. 

In June of this year, Batesy’s had everything in place to open. Bill Keating drove to the National Grid office in Bellmore, Long Island to officially open up an account. “Everyone was getting excited to open,” Miles said. While at the National Grid office, Keating was informed that they would not be opening any new accounts for any location that had not had gas in the past two years. “We were stunned,” Miles said.

This punch to the gut came just a few weeks after National Grid announced that it would no longer hook up new gas accounts in Brooklyn, Queens or Long Island, as a result of the proposed Williams pipeline project being rejected in May. The plan would have put an additional 23-mile pipeline across the waterways from New Jersey, connecting with an already existing pipeline nearly four miles off the coast of Rockaway. This plan, called the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE), would bring increased natural gas service to New York and Long Island. Williams, the infrastructure contractors responsible for the pipeline, is an Oklahoma based company that delivers around 10% of the nation’s natural gas, and 50% of New York City’s. In May, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation rejected Williams’ application, saying that the project “would result in significant water quality impacts.” This decision also followed heavy public outcry against the proposed project, with many concerned over possible environmental impacts of the pipeline and fears of what a possible leak could do to the water and nearby neighborhoods. “As the climate worsens for frontline communities like the Rockaway Peninsula, we must move to renewable energy, rather than build yet another pipeline that contributes to the climate crisis,” said Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project, a non-profit that pushes renewable energy sources based in New York.

However, according to National Grid, without the construction of the pipeline, they are facing a sharp downturn in the amount of natural gas they are able to provide to their customers, which is why they have begun to reject new accounts. 

“We’d like to continue processing customer requests for new or expanded gas service but cannot due to gas supply constraints—the infrastructure serving the region has reached full capacity and is unable to meet growing demand. The Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE) is needed to access additional supplies of natural gas required for new or expanded service requests in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island,” said National Grid in a comment to The Rockaway Times. So, until the pipeline is built, National Grid claims they will not have enough gas to provide the area beyond its current capacity. 

Some people doubt this is the reality and believe what National Grid is doing is extortion, including Miles. “It comes down to greed,” he said. “I think they are just playing hardball to get the pipeline.” National Grid is the only possible supplier of natural gas in the New York area, and is considered a legal monopoly that is regulated by the state government it is operating in. So although National Grid is the only source, it can be regulated, which is the power that gave state officials the power to reject the construction of the Williams pipeline from the start. But now some believe National Grid is retaliating. “National Grid abuses their monopoly status and holds residents and businesses hostage,” Fraczek said. 

Miles was among the Rockaway residents who opposed the pipeline and says that despite how that stance may be affecting him now, he would not have changed his mind. “I am not greedy enough to go against what I believe in just to get a business of mine open,” he said.

However Batesy’s isn’t the only place that’s feeling the heat, or lack thereof. Other businesses, new developments and newly-purchased homes are also being impacted by National Grid’s chess game. According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, more than 2,000 new requests for natural gas accounts have been rejected by National Grid since May, including businesses and developments from Brooklyn to Lynbrook. In response to these issues, the Department of Public Service has opened an investigation into the utility company. In the meantime, those impacted are having to seek other options, such as resorting to heating oil, which many consider to be even more harmful to the environment.

Instead of hoping for gas, desperate to make up for lost time and push forward, those at Batesy’s have resorted to buying new equipment that runs on electric power instead of gas, spending thousands of dollars on equipment that they did not think they would need. 

Despite the issues, Batesy’s still plans to open sometime at the end of August with the new equipment pumping out a barbeque menu (a smaller one, to deal with the new constraints) created by the original chef behind PICO.

As for the future of natural gas in Rockaway is concerned, Williams has addressed the environmental concerns in its plan and has re-submitted its request to build. National Grid “remains cautiously optimistic that NESE will be approved, and in time for service in the winter of 2020.”

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