Opponents say pipeline will be a disaster, literally
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | For years, park advocates have dreamed of the day when Gansevoort Peninsula will finally be redeveloped into a park as part of the Hudson River Park. As soon as the Department of Sanitation completes its new mega-garage at Spring and Washington Sts., the peninsula will be rid of its garbage truck garage and park construction can start on Gansevoort.
But at a hearing on Monday on a high-pressure gas pipeline that would traverse the peninsula, speakers contended that a Gansevoort park — and everything around it — could be blown sky high if the combustible pipeline were to explode.
Spectra Energy is seeking a 30-year easement from the Hudson River Park Trust to run the pipeline underground along the peninsula’s southern edge, for which it would pay the Trust a total of $2.75 million. (The pipeline would be expected to last 100 years, but under its legislation, the Trust can’t issue a contract for more than 30 years.) The right of way would be 20 feet wide. Access would need to be maintained to the pipeline, so certain uses above it would not be allowed, such as planting trees with deep roots or the construction of permanent structures. But grass, flowers and shrubs could be planted above it, and the right of way would be open for park use.
The pipeline would connect at 10th Ave. to another one running north to a Con Edison facility at W. 15th St.
Of concern to environmentalists, the conduit would bring in natural gas, specifically including hydrofracked gas from the Marcellus Shale. The pipeline currently ends in New Jersey. The proposed project would extend it another 20 miles to Gansevoort.
Monday’s hearing was held by the Trust and was presided over by Madelyn Wils, its president, and Noreen Doyle, its vice president.
Members of the public who testified also expressed concern that Con Ed has only signed up to use 20 percent of the pipeline’s gas — meaning 80 percent of the pipeline’s capacity isn’t even currently needed.
But safety was the main thing on the minds of the roughly 30 speakers who testified on Monday.
As she took her turn at the microphone, Ann Arlen, a former chairperson of Community Board 2’s Environment Committee, outlined the disaster scenario that could occur. The greater the intensity of use around such pipelines, the more likely they’ll explode, she said, noting that the area for this proposed pipeline — which would go underneath the West Side Highway — is definitely an area of intensive use.
Arlen said the incident looming over the hearing was the 2010 explosion of a similar pipeline in San Bruno, California, where 38 houses were destroyed and eight people killed, “and a large segment of pipe was thrown 100 feet in the air.” According to Wikipedia, that pipeline was installed in 1956; an investigation revealed that it had shoddy welding, which couldn’t withstand the increased pressure on the pipe as gas demand rose.
Arlen also noted that the Jane St. water playground is on the next pier south of Gansevoort.
“If there was an explosion, all those kids would be gone — not to mention, a lot of other people,” Arlen said.
“Vaporized,” a woman in the audience said for emphasis.
West Village activist Jim Fouratt charged, “Spectra is a disaster” in terms of its safety record.
“There’s no hospital in this neighborhood,” he reminded Wils and Doyle.
Fouratt also said the pipeline would be a terrorist target.
“This is like a red sign flashing, saying ‘Site, Site, Site for Terrorists,’” he warned.
The two Trust officials generally just listened and did not respond to speakers’ statements. Wils said the Trust’s board of directors might discuss the pipeline as early as their May meeting, assuming the project’s review process has progressed to that point by then. A final environmental impact statement has been issued for the pipeline by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Approvals are also still needed from a number of other state and city agencies.
“There was no doubt at any time that this pipeline would be approved by FERC,” said Buck Moorhead, a founder of the group NYH20.
Echoing Fouratt, Eileen Stukane said, “There are terrorists that know how to hack computers. This pipeline will be run by computers.”
Like other speakers, she also worried that the pipeline would be vulnerable to an earthquake, recalling last year’s tremblor.
“An earthquake in Virginia sent my desk chair across my room and shook all my paintings,” she said. “Something will happen.”
Ellen Peterson Lewis, a public member of C.B. 2’s Environment Committee, said it wasn’t reassuring that the robotic device used to check the pipeline’s safety — “the pig” — would only be sent through it every seven years.
Furthermore, she added, Gansevoort itself and the edge of the Lower West Side is all “water lots,” as in a landfilled extension of the original Manhattan shoreline. It’s an unstable area to site a pipeline, she stated.
“Where 9A is,” she said, referring to the West Side Highway, “where you’ve got the Whitney Museum. I’d say, roughly 250 feet in from Route 9A, it’s all water lots. It’s like one big bowl full of jelly, Jello. You get one big earthquake…,” she said, leaving the idea of the risk hanging in the air.
Frank Eadie, a Chelsea environmentalist, said, “When I found out about this I was just flabbergasted. I always thought that the park would take better care of itself and its constituents.”
Yvonne Morrow, a former aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver who lives in Chelsea, said, “I’m 1 million percent against fracking, so I’m 1 million percent against this.”
Annie Wilson, energy committee chairperson of the New York Sierra Club, said, “Are there any evacuation plans for the community in the case of a problem?”
A group of Spectra representatives attended the hearing. Asked about accusations that there’s currently no market for most of the pipeline’s gas, Marylee Hanley, a Spectra spokesperson, said, “You build a pipeline, not for the needs of today, but for the future.” Who exactly gets the excess gas, she said, “will be determined by other customers that need it.”
Regarding safety concerns, she said, “The pipeline is going to meet or exceed all federal, state and municipal safety standards.”
Coincidentally, the day after the pipeline hearing, the Trust’s board of directors met, as it does every other month. Wils mentioned the Spectra pipeline briefly in her report to the board, but there was no subsequent discussion of it by the board members.
After the meeting, asked about the pipeline’s safety, one of the Trust’s directors, former state Senator Franz Leichter, shrugged off the concerns.
“Don’t we have gas pipes running under the city all over?” he said. “I don’t think it’s a great threat, but it needs to be considered. Speaking for myself, I’m not happy about fracking. But the question for us is if [the pipeline] gets all the permits. The city says it needs that supply of gas.”
As to whether the pipeline would be a target, Leichter said, “I don’t see it really as a terrorist threat. Are there bigger threats around?” he asked rhetorically. “There are threats all over the city. I don’t see that as the major issue.”
Leichter co-authored the 1998 legislation that created the Hudson River Park.
In a statement, a Trust spokesperson said: “Given that we are in the midst of a public review and comment period that lasts until April 25, 2012, we have not yet taken a position with respect to the proposal. We know that concerns have been raised about safety and environmental issues in regard to this project, and we will thoughtfully consider these and all other comments submitted during the comment period before making a decision.”
Members of the public wishing to e-mail the Trust their comments on the proposed high-pressure gas pipeline project can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org .