2014-06-20 / Top Stories

Rockaway Pipeline Gets the Go-Ahead

By Katie McFadden

Offshore construction for the pipeline goes on as beachgoers enjoy the day on a closed beach in Riis Park. Photo by Katie McFadden Offshore construction for the pipeline goes on as beachgoers enjoy the day on a closed beach in Riis Park. Photo by Katie McFadden The Rockaway Lateral Project, or the “Rockaway Pipeline” as it is more wellknown, is officially a go.

After receiving full permission to proceed earlier this month, Williams, the company building the project, has started to move forward. The result will be the completion of the Transco pipeline, which will bring in more natural gas to Brooklyn and Queens, including Rockaway.

The Rockaway Lateral Project, which was first brought up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in May 2009, received full permission to go ahead with construction on June 6 with FERC’s Notice to Proceed and permits from NOAA fisheries and the Army Corps of Engineers. Williams began construction on June 9.

The Williams Transco Rockaway Lateral Project and National Grid’s Brooklyn Queens Interconnect Project are being designed to give Brooklyn and Queens access to more natural gas. The Rockaway Lateral Project consists of a 3.2-mile, 26-inch diameter pipe that will connect with Williams Transco’s 26-inch Lower New York Bay Lateral natural gas pipeline which already exists under the Atlantic Ocean and runs parallel to Rockaway. Williams’ new pipeline will connect to this ocean pipe and will run below Jacob Riis Park and connect with a National Grid pipeline that runs under Jamaica Bay and Floyd Bennett Field. In addition to the pipeline running under the ocean and through Riis Park, Williams will construct a metering and regulation (M&R) facility in one of the airplane hangars in Floyd Bennett Field.

National Grid’s portion of the project runs by the Brooklyn Golf Center along Flatbush Avenue. National Grid’s portion of the project runs by the Brooklyn Golf Center along Flatbush Avenue. National Grid’s portion of the project consists of a 26-inch and 12-inch steel pipeline that runs under the bay, parallel to the Marine Parkway Bridge starting from Beach 169th Street. This new 12-inch pipeline runs up Flatbush Avenue and will connect with National Grid’s existing distribution systems in Brooklyn and Queens that were constructed between 40 and 60 years ago. Construction for National Grid’s portion of the project began in late spring of 2013. National Grid’s portion of the project did not need federal review as it is located on city land.

National Grid’s portion of the pipeline lays parallel to Flatbush Avenue. Photos by Katie McFadden National Grid’s portion of the pipeline lays parallel to Flatbush Avenue. Photos by Katie McFadden Now the entire project is on its way to being completed. Using Michels Pipeline Construction as a contractor, Williams hopes to finish the project before the end of the year, just in time for this winter’s heating season.

Opposition groups have expressed heavy concern over the pipeline project ever since it started. Aden Smith, of the social media group “No Rockaway Pipeline” says that even the project’s beginnings were “shady.” The Rockaway Lateral Pipeline Project needed special permission from Congress to pass. The New York City Natural Gas Supply Enhancement Act was created to allow the private company, Williams, to place a pipeline on public land in a national park in support of bringing an increased natural gas supply to New York City. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on November 27, 2012 as residents were occupied with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Williams contractor Michels Pipeline Construction begins onshore construction at Beach 169th Street in Fort Tilden. Williams contractor Michels Pipeline Construction begins onshore construction at Beach 169th Street in Fort Tilden. The pipeline argument has been a tricky one among environmentalists as some argue that natural gas is the cleanest and “greenest” energy that is accessible, so using this energy is actually better for the environment. Smith argues that natural gas, which is mostly methane, is not safe when incidents such as explosions and pipeline leaks occur.

“Williams is saying that this is our green alternative to coal. But they have leaky pipelines and leaky wells which are releasing more methane into the atmosphere and it is contributing to global warming,” Smith said.

On his Facebook page, “No Rockaway Pipeline,” Smith cites several articles involving explosions or leaks or fines for products controlled by Williams, which is behind the Rockaway pipeline. A quick Google search shows even more.

Smith says the natural gas that Williams uses come from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and is extracted though a process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which has been the center of controversy among environmental groups.

“This Rockaway pipeline is part of Williams’ goal of pumping fracked gas into New York City,” Smith said.

The process of fracking is currently banned in New York. Smith also says that the gas coming from the Marcellus Shale has been found to be radioactive.

Pipeline incidents are rare, but accidents do happen. However Carl Weimer, Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, recently told Lancaster Online that Williams is “slightly safer” than other energy company as they have a lower number of incidents per mile of pipe.

When asked about the safety of the project, Williams’ spokesperson Chris Stockton said, “It is important to remember that the Transco pipeline has been operating safely, reliably delivering natural gas to New York City for decades. We have a long, safe history of new pipe installations and we are committed to installing the new Rockaway pipeline lateral in a safe, environmentally responsible manner.”

Williams currently provides about 14 percent of the country’s natural gas and more than half of the natural gas used in New York City. The company says that its pipelines are carefully inspected “to ensure that quality meets or exceeds both federal and industry-wide standards” and that the pipeline is equipped with remote controlled shutoff valves in case of an emergency and it is monitored 24 hours a day.

There is also some concern over the environmental impacts that installation of the pipeline could cause. FERC released a final Environmental Impact Statement on February 28, 2014 and concluded that the pipeline “would have limited adverse environmental impacts, but these impacts would be reduced to-lessthan significant levels with the implementation of Transco’s proposed mitigation and the additional measures recommended in the final EIS.”

Among some of the concerns included “impacts on marine wildlife and Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) due to pile driving and other effects associated with offshore construction; impacts on special status species, including marine mammals; impacts on cultural resource sites, particularly the historic airplane hangar complex that would house the M&R facility; air quality and noise impacts; and cumulative impacts.”

Transco says these impacts would be minimized due to a process called Horizontal Directional Drilling, which allows the company to install the pipeline without creating trenches or digging up the ocean floor. This method allows the company to drill under Riis Park and the ocean floor so that the pipeline can be pulled through. This technique also minimizes the amount of construction that will be visible to the public. Williams says the beach and ocean will not be disrupted and beachgoers won’t see more than vessels in the water.

As for the old, abandoned airplane hangar, Williams will rehabilitate the exterior of the building to its “historically accurate original condition.” Williams will also pay up to $150,000 yearly as part of a lease for the hangar to the Gateway National Recreation area.

In exchange for impacting the environment, local environmentalists, like Dan Mundy Sr. of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, pushed for Williams to mitigate the effects by replenishing an offshore reef that lays near the construction area, about 2.6 miles off the shore as well as offsite mitigation that includes restoring a wetland marsh in Jamaica Bay.

Mundy recently told The Wave that they got what they asked for. Williams and National Grid will be providing $1.5 million to create a new portion of the artificial reef. The money will go towards adding 40-foot long, 2-foot diameter concrete pipes to the ocean floor, which support the growth of coral, and draws in more wildlife. “It’s going to be a phenomenal asset to the ocean,” Mundy said of the reef expansion, which he expects to be done in the fall. Mundy says the companies are also going to provide about $500,000 for the wetland marsh in Sunset Cove in Broad Channel, which will be restored and will include new marsh plantings that will protect the coast from flooding.

Mundy says that while the pipeline is a cause for concern, the natural gas that it brings is necessary.

“There’s a definite argument that the need for gas exists. There are environmental groups that will oppose this as they’re going to see some temporary damage to the ocean bottom, they’re unhappy with the route it took that goes into a National park and the project didn’t have enough community input, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to argue with people that say we need the gas in the Rockaways and Brooklyn,” Mundy said, adding that natural gas is much cleaner and better fossil fuel than burning oil and coal.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, who Mundy says was instrumental in obtaining the funds for these mitigation projects, also believes the pipeline will greatly benefit the area.

“It’s happening and I’m excited about it,” Goldfeder said of the pipeline construction. “Natural gas is currently the safest, most reliable energy source we have. Until we can stand on other sources like solar and wind, natural gas is our best option and it is something we already have. Nothing new is being brought in with this pipeline.”

Goldfeder added that Rockaway currently receives natural gas through Long Island, which has created limits for the peninsula.

“Natural gas is delivered through Long Island, so by the time it gets to the end of the line in Rockaway, there are supply issues. All this pipeline will do is increase capacity.” Goldfeder said. “For many families in Rockaway who are suffering from a lack of natural gas, this pipeline is going to help. It’s going to assure that every part of Rockaway, from Nassau to Breezy Point, will have sufficient natural gas.”

The reef and marsh restoration aren’t the only projects benefitting from the pipeline. Williams recently announced the recipients of its Rockaway Community Grant Program that is designed to benefit the environment and local communities that may be impacted by the Rockaway Lateral Project. For the Spring 2014 funding cycle, $108,000 has been awarded to 15 organizations.

This includes $13,121 to the People’s Association of Roxbury, Breezy Point, for the Jamaica Bay Beachfront Access Project, $10,000 to the Rockaway Artists Alliance for the Studio 6 Gallery Repair and Reopening, $14,000 to the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance for the Rockaway Dune Preserve Restoration Project and the Literacy Through Art and Technology program, $15,000 to the Brooklyn Public Library for their Outreach Services Capacity Building project that serves the area where the Rockaway Lateral enters Brooklyn and Floyd Bennett Field, $5000 to the Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corp for the Far Rockaway Healthy Foods Community Program, $5,000 to the Rockaway Point Yacht Club to repair the Yacht Club, $4,600 to Chaverim of Five Towns and Rockaway to replace equipment lost in Hurricane Sandy, $4,500 to the Beach 116th Street Partnership for city benches along the commercial corridor, $10,000 to the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Corps for the Communications Project, $9,000 to the Broad Channel Athletic Club to repair fields due to damage from Sandy, $8,000 to the Rockaway Rockies for a scoreboard, building and storage repair due to Sandy damage, $5,000 to Rockaway Little League for field renovation, $5,000 to Rockaway Youth Task Force for the Urban Garden project and $750 to the Rockaway Point Association for the youth “Bay Race” swimming program.

“With any pipeline or dredging or large construction project, there’s going to be a large environmental impact. Given those impacts, I wanted to make sure those companies laying the pipeline are giving back to the community to offset those impacts. Williams and National Grid said they were going to be good partners and they put their money where their mouth is. They’re providing a service and at the same time, they’re giving back in so many ways,” Goldfeder said.

Despite the project receiving full approval, Smith is still on a mission to fight it, or to at least let others know about the potential dangers that the pipeline may bring. “This pipeline is one part of a bigger question about what our future is going to look like. What kind of life are we going to have in five, in 10 years, if we’re letting these kinds of infrastructures make our situation worse? Why are we doing these things? Why are special laws being passed to let them go right through New York City’s most popular beach?” Smith said. Smith says he and others will hold more meetings to discuss what can be done to stop the pipeline at this point and he will continue to hold discussions with residents to make them aware of the impacts that the project will have.

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