2013-12-20 / Top Stories

Enviros Seek Payback from Pipeline Project

By Katie McFadden

During a recent Community Board environmental committee meeting, members presented their concerns over the environmental impacts of the Rockaway Delivery Lateral Project, also known as the Rockaway pipeline. The committee asked representatives from the companies behind the project, Williams and National Grid, to consider certain mitigation projects to offset the environmental impacts that the pipeline project may cause if it is approved.

On Monday, December 2nd, members of the environmental committee, including Dan Mundy Sr, John McCambridge, Peter Larkin and Dan Mundy Jr. met with Eileen Cifone of National Grid, and Steve Kellogg and Chris Staffel of Williams to express their concerns over the natural gas project which consists of a 3.2-mile, 26- inch diameter Transco pipeline that would connect with a 26-inch lateral pipeline project proposed by National Grid and Williams’ existing 26-inch Lower New York Bay Lateral pipeline in the Atlantic Ocean. Once complete, the pipeline would provide more natural gas to Brooklyn and Queens, including Rockaway. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released a draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) report for the project on October 4th and gave the public until December 9th to make comments on the draft. FERC will take these comments into consideration before releasing a final EIS in February 2014.

The draft report concluded that “construction and operation of the Projects would result in limited adverse environmental impacts that would mostly occur during construction.” The EIS said that these limited impacts “would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of Transco’s proposed mitigation and the additional measures recommended in the draft EIS.”

While the EIS seemed to be in favor of the project, Dan Mundy Sr., president of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, said that “the EIS report, as it’s done right now, is downplaying that significant impact and we’re concerned by that.” In the December 2nd meeting, Mundy Sr. highlighted some of those impacts which included the effect of pile driving and other construction practices that would impact local marine wildlife and the effects on cultural resources, air quality and noise. The noise from the pile driving “would exceed the threshold for fish in areas immediately adjacent to the piles [and] would exceed the behavioral disturbance threshold for marine mammals in the area extending up to 2.86 miles from the piles,” Mundy said, citing the EIS. The EIS made no mention of the effects on the large whale population that visited Rockaway this past summer.

Aside from the noise impact, Mundy also said that offshore excavation for the underwater pipeline would create cloudy plumes which “could clog fish gills, obscure visual stimuli and reduce food intake for benthic filter feeders.” Williams says it will backfill the excavation area using sediments found on the sea floor by using a suction dredge, which would add to the plumes and the company would also add a top layer of sediments over drilling fluid and cuttings, which means they would simply bury it, leaving it vulnerable to being uncovered.

Due to these impacts, which the committee calls “very significant,” and the high profit that Williams is set to make from the project, the environmental committee recommends that Williams performs mitigation at the site of an artificial reef off the coast of Rockaway by replenishing the reef with new material. The reef, which lies about 2.6 miles off the coast of the peninsula and is near the proposed construction area, may be impacted by sediment that will be suspended in the water after the process of using a high pressure water jet to trench the pipe into the sand. The reef is covered in coral and is home to thousands of fish and lobsters. It is a hotspot for party boats and charter boats out of Sheepshead and Jamaica Bays which depend on the reef for economic survival. The reef already needs additional material as it has not been supplemented for more than 30 years.

The committee is also asking for offsite mitigation which would include wetland marsh restoration in Jamaica Bay. Lastly, they want Williams to put off starting construction until the company consults with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Even though FERC released a favorable environmental impact statement, Mundy says the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has the final say on if the project can move forward, so they’re hoping the DEC will require this offset mitigation to be carried out if the project is approved.

The committee says that in early meetings with Williams, the company originally agreed to carry out the mitigation, but they would only do it if mandated by the state. According to Mundy, Williams is requesting to carry out its own study on the reef to determine if offset mitigation is necessary. Williams, the company behind the Transco pipeline project, would pay for and control the study and would present it to the DEC.

Dan Mundy Sr. presented this report to Community Board 14 in a meeting on December 17th, asking them to write a letter to the DEC, urging them to require that Williams carries out these mitigation projects if the company receives approval to move forward with the pipeline project and to consider a possible bias in Williams’ study of the impact of the reef. With the exception of one abstention, the board members who were present at the meeting all voted to write the letter to the DEC.

A spokesman for Williams released a statement saying that the DEC told them that “compensatory mitigation will be required as part of the permit conditions for the Rockaway Delivery Lateral Project.” The spokesman says reef mitigation has been discussed. “We are committed to complying with the requests of the NYSDEC and we are willing to fund compensatory projects. We have discussed potential projects with NYSDEC which could include reef enhancement approximately 2.6 miles off the coast of the Rockaways and other restoration options in Jamaica Bay.”

Williams confirmed that they will be working with their own environmental contractor, Ecology & Environment Inc,. and with the DEC to “establish an evaluation method to determine the magnitude and extent of project impacts on ecological and human-use resources, to design, fund, and guide compensatory mitigation implementation.”

If Williams receives the permit for the project, they say the “final mitigation requirements will be determined as part of the conditions issued with the permit.”

In addition to compensatory mitigation established through the DEC permit, Williams has established a community grant program which will help organizations around Rockaway to show that they’re a good neighbor. “Grants up to $15,000 per grant cycle (twice per year) will be awarded based on community need and can be used for environmental benefit, economic development, and to support emergency services, youth and/or senior programs or educational programs,” the Williams spokesman said.

The other issue concerning locals is the timing and how the work will be done in the busy summer months. The Williams spokesman, Christopher Stockton, said, “Originally the plan was to construct in the winter months, but due to delays in the FERC schedule, our construction schedule has been adjusted so that currently we’re anticipating beginning offshore construction in May and wrapping up by early September. We understand the concerns. We are in the process of developing an outreach plan to ensure that the public is informed about construction activities taking place offshore and that there is a method for communicating questions or inquiries to Transco during project construction. Part of that plan will include regular notices posted in the Wave, informing the public that the activity is temporary and that the area is safe for normal use and will not include any beach closures during construction.”

And of beach waters being muddied or made cloudy by the work, Stockton said, “the water near the beach will not be impacted by sedimentation. We have conducted extensive sediment modeling and submitted that to FERC. It shows that any sedimentation will be limited to the sea floor, well away from the beach.

Other than seeing the construction barge in the distance on the horizon, beachgoers won’t be affected by construction. We will be posting temporary signage in the area to let beachgoers know what is going on, along with posting constructions status updates to our website and providing a phone number and email address the public can use to ask questions or get more info.”

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