A pair of public workshops being held this week will give stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns about a natural gas pipeline proposed to run underneath Jamaica Bay, after locals complained they were being shut out of the process.
The first meeting will take place Tuesday, April 24, at 7 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus in Rockaway Beach (333 Beach 90 Street). The second meeting is Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Sports & Events Center at Floyd Bennett Field (Hangar 5 Mezzanine).
Representatives from Williams, the company that operates the Transco pipeline and delivers natural gas to local suppliers from the Gulf of Mexico to New York, and National Grid will explain details of the Transco Rockaway Lateral Project, as the proposal is formally known, and hear out residents’ concerns.
The companies have already mobilized in the face of criticism that it was shutting locals out of the project, which will see a natural gas pipeline installed from a primary conduit in the Atlantic underneath the Rockaways, through Jamaica Bay and Floyd Bennett Field and up Flatbush Avenue.
According to Williams, the claims that locals are being shut out of the process are premature, and they’ve begun reaching out to local civics and environmental watchdogs in the area.
“The common thread [in criticism from local groups] is this perception that we did this under the radar and it’s a done deal,” said Williams spokesperson Chris Stockton. “The fact of the matter is, we haven’t even filed our application yet with [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission].”
Sparking the complaint was the U.S. House of Representatives swift passage of the New York City Natural Gas Supply and Enhancement Act in February. The legislation, sponsored by Congressman Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island), authorizes the Secretary of Interior to approve work to be done in Gateway National Recreation Area, part of the National Parks system. The bill has not yet been passed by the Senate.
Even still, Stockton said, the bill only gives the Secretary of Interior the ability to approve the project if he chooses, and is only the first step in laying the groundwork for a multi-year process.
“That was all preliminary work that was happening to know if [installation in Jamaica Bay] was even an option for us,” Stockton said. “I think people were seeing the movement over in the [House] and thinking that was approval over the whole project.”
Williams will still need to assess the environmental impacts of the project, as well as demonstrate to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that they’ve coordinated with government and civic stakeholders – part of which includes this week’s workshops. They hope to file their FERC application by the end of the year and begin construction in spring or summer of 2014, finishing it by the end of the year.
One of the groups Williams has contacted, though, said that outreach should have started before the House vote.
“The greatest protection Jamaica Bay has is that it’s protected by the original 1972 legislation creating the park,” said Dan Mundy, president of Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers. He noted that no legislation he knows of has ever permitted work of this scale to be done in Gateway National Park, and that it creates a slippery slope for the National Parks Service.
As part of the legislation, National Grid will be permitted to use a Floyd Bennett Field hangar as a metering station, paying fees to the park. Mundy fears a similar rationale – and under-the-radar tactics – could be used to approve other revenue generating projects like the expansion of John F. Kennedy Airport.
“Let’s have that discussion first, not open up Sheepshead Bites or Daily News and say, ‘Hey, the House passed a resolution allowing them to open!’”
He also noted that the National Grid portion of the project – which will lay new infrastructure beneath Floyd Bennett Field and up Flatbush Avenue to connect to its existing delivery lines – will not need FERC approval to move forward. National Grid did not respond with comment by deadline.
That said, Mundy adds that he sees the benefits of the Williams project, including that all of the work from the Atlantic side of the Rockaways all the way to the Floyd Bennett Field hangar will use lateral drilling techniques - meaning they will not upset the park or the sea floor, nor the homes and roads in the Rockways.
But questions still linger about a two-mile section of work being down further out in the Atlantic where the new pipeline will connect with the existing Transco artery. That work will involve digging a large trench in the ground, upsetting the ocean floor and sensitive habitats around it.
Stockton said they’re studying the route thoroughly to ensure minimal destruction of the sea floor.
“There are impacts there but those impacts are temporary,” Stockton said. “We’re putting a line in the ground, but it will be buried. We’ve done a lot of survey work to find where are those areas that are sensitive. We’ve mapped it out to go around those areas. From a design perspective, those are considered temporary impacts.”
Mundy notes, though, that gauging environmental impacts is an imperfect science, and locals know the risks better than anyone. In this project, he’s particularly worried about damage to the artificial reef that’s wedged between the Rockaways and the existing pipeline. The reef is a thriving habitat, and nearby dredging could cover it in life-smothering muck.
Mundy, though, said he will be at this week’s meetings with an open mind, and is pushing for funding of environmental mitigation projects as part of any government agreement with Williams and National Grid.
“We’ll be watching this process closely and we’re going to withhold judgement until Williams has said everything they have to say,” Mundy said. “But I dont think you should be a multimillion dollar gas corporation and you’re going to make millions and millions of dollars, and you’re going to rip up the floor – I think you need to give back something.”