Though the proposed installation of a natural gas pipeline beneath Jamaica Bay has sparked wide-ranging concerns from opponents – from environmental damage to the risk of a terrorist attack – a growing coalition of activists say its biggest threat is setting a precedent that would open up all national parks to industrial uses.
A group of local activists calling themselves Coalition Against the Rockaway Pipeline (CARP) gathered at Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways on Saturday, spreading the word about the proposed pipeline and gathering petition signatures from beach-goers in an effort to stop H.R. 2606 – federal legislation that would authorize work in the park. Under a banner that read “Keep the gas industry out of our National Park” and “Kill the Bill, Protect Your Park,” CARP representatives touted the list of local and national groups that are coming together to battle the plans: the Brooklyn Green Party, SANE Energy, United for Action, Brooklyn for Peace, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and, they say, many more signing on every day.
Though the individuals at the Saturday rally were all locals – mostly from Marine Park – their concerns have national implications, they say.
“Having a pipeline and metering station going through a national park is absurd,” said Karen Mascolo, a CARP member who also works at the Floyd Bennett Gardens Association. “If you let industry come in, you’re opening up the door to allow industry into any national park.”
The plan they oppose is a private project called the Rockaway Lateral Delivery Project, which will use national park land to connect a primary natural gas artery in the Atlantic, just off the coast of the Rockaways, to a National Grid hub in Brooklyn. The pipe will go under the Rockaways, across the Rockaway inlet and underneath Floyd Bennett Field. There, the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company (TRANSCO) will install a gas metering station in two currently-unused hangars off Flatbush Avenue, which will be monitored remotely from their Texas headquarters. The line will then continue up Flatbush Avenue and into National Grid’s main system.
The National Parks Service, however, claims that the language of the legislation provides that no precedent will be set for industrial uses in other national parks.
“The legislation is very specific to Gateway, so it establishes no precedent for other parks,” said NPS spokesperson John Warren.
The bill – sponsored by Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, representing Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, and co-sponsored by Republican Congressman Bob Turner – has already passed the House and awaits Senate approval.
Warren declined to comment further on the bill, noting, “This is a bill that is pending before Congress. It’s not law and until it becomes law there’s nothing we can say.”
At the heart of the issue is the metering station – an industrial facility approximately the size of a football field – that will be housed in the historic hangars along Flatbush Avenue. The decrepit hangars will be restored, and Transco will pay rent to the park, providing much-needed revenue at the budget-strapped National Parks Service.
And it’s not like the activists are opposed to public-private partnerships to bring those hangars up to snuff, it’s the choice of partner that has them worried.
“Other historic buildings and parkland are going to go the same way – public-private partnerships – but it’s a question of who you’re going to give it to and what they’re going to do with it,” said CARP member Karen Orlando.
Orlando told Sheepshead Bites that during a meeting with Transco that she attended, representatives of the company compared the proposed facility to the Aviator Sports Center, a school building, or any other of the traditional concession vendors that government usually partners with.
“But it’s not just any other concession,” Orlando said. “We’re not talking about a shoe store. We’re talking about a shoe factory.”
In testimony before a House subcommittee on National Parks, Stephanie Toothman, associate director of cultural resources for NPS, said that the plan to use the hangars beats the alternatives.
One alternative NPS and Transco explored was to place the metering station outside of NPS property. But a huge building with security infrastructure near the park, but not in it, would have hurt the park by obstructing its “viewshed” – essentially, the view of the park from nearby road- and water-ways.
Another option is to construct a new facility within the park, saving the historic hangars for future uses, perhaps determined by the Gateway Management Plan intended to increase recreational opportunities at the location. But that “would be contrary to the National Park Service’s goals of reducing infrastructure and carefully managing existing facilities,” Toothman told the subcommittee. Additionally, “Floyd Bennett Field and its associated buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, and such new construction could additionally jeopardize this status.”
But even that explanation seems a little contradictory to the critics.
“They want to put this industrial thing in historic hangars – an actual national landmark – on hangar row?” said Mascolo of CARP. “They’re going to fix it up very nice on the outside, but do whatever they want on the inside and that’s okay?”
“I see it as a Trojan Horse,” said Orlando. “They come in and make everything nice and offer all this money, but at the end of the day it’s industrializing a park. It’s a deal with the devil.”
UPDATE (3:11 p.m.): Orlando just wrote in, saying that they collected 585 signatures to their petition, and beachgoers created 60 handwritten postcards opposing the plan, in just four hours on Saturday.
“It’s pretty easy to get people to sign this [petition],” Orlando told us. “It’s pretty outrageous they don’t already know about it.”