Public Input Lacking
As Rockaway residents attend meetings that ask for public comment, whether that input is on boardwalk material and design or various ways to rebuild better post-Hurricane Sandy and how to invest funds wisely in order to protect resident’s investment in their homes, their safety and quality of life, the Rockaway Pipeline Project currently under review by FERC offers a cautionary tale on public input.
By all accounts, even those published previously in The Wave, meaningful public input is the thing most lacking, with the exception of when public comment had been specifically asked for and subsequently ignored, as it was during Blue Panel Ribbon meetings on the future of Floyd Bennett Field.
The first solid news that this pipeline project through Riis Beach in the Rockaways was imminent was when the House passed a bill in February 2012 that would allow for this pipeline right of way to be authorized through Gateway National Recreation Area. And it took another two months and after testimony in the Senate by NPS alone was heard before the public was “introduced” to the project at public meetings. By that time National Grid’s accompanying project which intends to both deliver gas to the Rockaways via a smaller pipe from Brooklyn and to Brooklyn under the Rockaway inlet had already been approved. “Done deal” was the word on the street about the Rockaway Lateral Project, which not only involves a Right of Way through Riis Beach but the possibility of a precedent setting lease of Historic Hangars in Floyd Bennett Field for a natural gas facility the size of a football field.
This “done deal” was in spite of public input on the future of Floyd Bennett Field which specifically called for only appropriate uses for the park, whether recreational, educational or to enhance the park’s natural resources. This “done deal” occurred at the same time that NPS was involved in “public outreach” on Gateway NRA’s park planning process, where this pipeline project and lease were never made public. In response to being left out of the planning process on this project for years, the public and many park users including many from the Rockaways, signed petitions, wrote letters, and appealed to local politicians, NPS management and even the president. The results of this “public input” were predictable. The bill passed.
A “public commenting” period on the draft environmental impact statement for the Rockaway Pipeline Project will be ending next Monday, December 9th. Some of us continue to offer our input through this FERC approval process despite the fact that we are pretty sure no one is listening. Whether or not one thinks this project is necessary or beneficial, because it has been difficult for the public to meaningfully participate, important information is not widely known. The likely connection between the Rockaway Pipeline project and the proposed LNG deep water port project in nearby waters, Port Ambrose, has not been properly addressed. It is likely that most of the public doesn’t even realize that the Rockaway Pipeline project is mostly about shifting existing supplies of gas and not about new supplies. And the new construction schedule for Riis and offshore waters which is now scheduled for Memorial Day through Labor Day or prime beach season was only recently revealed. Transco made the new schedule publically available after the draft EIS was issued. The public also most likely knows very little about the planned release of drilling material into the ocean offshore during pipeline construction. Because some folks think a lease of these historic hangars at Floyd Bennett Field will be both precedent setting and unlawful, they may be forced to file suit against NPS, the last recourse the public has for “input.”
With any luck, the Rockaways will fare better in getting their homes and environment restored and protected.