2012-02-24 / Front Page

Pipeline Runaround

Proposal Leaves BC On The Outside Looking In
By Nicholas Briano

The natural gas pipeline proposed to run underneath Riis Park is still awaiting US Senate approval after the House gave the project its nod earlier this month. However, residents in Broad Channel, who have been asking for natural gas in their community for at least 20 years, may once again be left out of the equation.

The proposed three-mile pipeline, dubbed the Rockaway Point Project, would be installed by energy company Williams/Transco as a 26-inch diameter lateral pipe to their existing pipeline which is located approximately two-miles off the shore of Rockaway. It would run underground to Riis Park where National Grid would take over and continue the pipeline under Jamaica Bay, beneath the Marine Parkway Bridge and into a newly installed metering station located inside a hangar at Floyd Bennett Field.

The plan has been in the works since 2009 and was first reported by The Wave in 2010 when a Williams/Transco Energy boat was seen off the shore of Fort Tilden performing survey work. According to local officials, including longtime Community Board 14 District Manager, Jonathan Gaska, the need for natural gas is simple. The population and housing surge of Rockaway has resulted in an increased need for the fuel.

“The problem in Rockaway is that our natural gas service has been maxed out. The pressure is too low,” Gaska said. “This would bring us back to adequate pressure, which is a benefit to us.”

Dan Mundy Jr., president of the Broad Channel Homeowners Association, says the community feels the opportunity is ripe for the picking. He says the community is making a strong push this time for National Grid to bring natural gas to the small, isolated island community that must rely on expensive oil heating and dangerous propane tanks to heat their homes or to use their stoves.

“National Grid is a monopoly and with that comes responsibility to Broad Channel. They are mandated by law to supply us,” Mundy said.

But cost estimates according to local sources are too high to run the pipeline from the Marine Parkway Bridge, where it’s proposed, all the way over to Broad Channel several miles away. This means Broad Channel may miss out on another opportunity to bring natural gas to their community.

“We have filed complaints with the Public Service Commission about this. Why not supply a line to us while all the equipment is here? The opportunity is now. Now is the time for them to run another line under Rockaway to Broad Channel,” Mundy said.

The timing is opportune as well, Mundy added, because Broad Channel will undergo a massive street raising project over the next few years to address flooding issues and while the streets are open the gas lines can also be laid. Those facts, however, may still not be enough to convince National Grid. “We feel it’s a now or never situation right now,” emphasized Mundy.

National Grid representatives said the pipeline is too far away to service Broad Channel.

“This project is quite a distance from Broad Channel and unrelated to work necessary to bring gas distribution service directly to that area,” Spokesperson Karen Young said. “Because the community is not situated near an existing gas line it requires NYS Public Service Commission review to extend existing utility services to new areas.”

In the fall of last year National Grid filed a Petition for Relief with the PSC to release them from any legal obligation to provide Broad Channel with natural gas. That almost immediately prompted letters from local elected officials including Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder who says providing natural gas to Broad Channel is one of his top priorities.

“I fully believe its time to give Broad Channel an option for natural gas,” Goldfeder said. “It’s incumbent on National Grid to make that happen. The best option to achieve this is for National Grid to figure out in order to deliver to Broad Channel. It’s really about time this happened.” According to sources, cost estimates in relation to this project make it more feasible to run natural gas lines from the Howard Beach area to Broad Channel instead, but based on the PSC filing it doesn’t appear to be in National Grid’s plans at the moment.

The National Grid petition summary asks the PSC for “relief from its obligation to extend service to the island of Broad Channel absent a direct contribution from the Broad Channel applicants, or from some alternative source of funding due to the extraordinary costs associated with the requested extension.”

National Grid representatives said this week, further explaining the Petition, that they would like to provide Broad Channel with natural gas but could do so only under certain circumstances.

“National Grid would like to provide natural gas service to the Broad Channel community and has reviewed a variety of options,” National Grid spokesperson Karen Young said in a separate statement. “Due to the unique situation presented in Broad Channel, however, in order to provide the requested service and balance the interest of all of our customers, we submitted the Petition requesting the relief necessary to provide the service. Because all of our customers would ultimately bear responsibility for the costs of the extension, the Petition asks that the Broad Channel customers bear a share of the costs, either directly or through third party funding of the project.”

The proposed pipeline project, meanwhile, could be in service as soon as 2014 and cost an estimated $265 million between Williams/Transco and National Grid if the Senate approves the project. Senator Chuck Schumer is still reviewing the bill and hasn’t commented publicly. National Park Service will be receiving up to $10 million from National Grid to be put back into Gateway National Recreation Area.

Mundy says he would like to see that money go back into the park and provide amenities that actually benefit the park and its visitors. “All we ask is that something like this have a public comment period. We would like the money to be used to bring more amenities and enhance features of the park for everyone to use. Show us some great projects from that money,” Mundy said.

Mundy said throughout last year’s management plan meetings to assess public use for Gateway over the next 20 years, no one ever mentioned that a portion of Floyd Bennett Field would be surrendered to National Grid for a metering station created for this pipeline.

“No one said to us that they would give up a portion of this park to a corporation. No one said anything to us and many of the local environmental groups are angered over this. NPS never gave the community a chance to discuss this. That was the point of those meetings, to discuss how the park will be used and they hid this from us.”

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