NY: Fighting Plans for a Gas Pipeline ("NIMBY")greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Headline: Fighting Plans for a Gas Pipeline: Not Under My Backyard
Source: New York Times, 7 August 2001
MOUNT VERNON, N.Y., Aug. 6 — It would be buried at least three feet underground, an invisible, silent artery carrying the lifeblood, natural gas, for an anticipated new crop of power plants to meet New York's growing electricity needs.
But to an increasing number of New York State residents and environmentalists, the proposed Millennium Pipeline may as well be a pollution-spewing superhighway running through the prettiest meadows, woods and waterways.
An unusually fierce, multipronged assault is under way to fight the project, the first major pipeline to be built in New York in nine years, and the longest of 23 such proposals nationwide under review by federal regulators. The battle here reflects the mounting tension between the region's growing demand for energy and the communities that will have to live with the messy details of meeting it.
Few large projects these days, particularly in the suburbs, go from drawing board to groundbreaking without heated, often sophisticated, resistance. But in New York, the Millennium Pipeline has accumulated a string of foes as sprawling and elaborate as the project itself.
Through the blasting of rock, dredging of rivers and lakes and plain old digging, the 425-mile steel pipe would start at the Canadian border on Lake Erie, snake along the Southern Tier, tunnel under the Hudson River and traverse about 32 miles of some of Westchester County's most scenic communities before ending in this densely populated city.
Opposition to the plan has loosely linked conservationists, state officials, suburban homeowners and Seneca Indians, and even prompted a rare meeting of the supervisors of 10 towns along the route in Westchester last month. It has made strange bedfellows of environmentalists and their usual nemesis, Consolidated Edison. And it has generated a litany of complaints and fears, from concerns about its safety and its effects on soil, drinking water, Lake Erie and the Hudson to claims that it would discriminate against the minority neighborhood here at the pipeline's end.
"This is somewhat unique in that it is a pipeline through a built-up, urban environment," said Fred Zalcman, executive director of the Pace University Law School Energy Project, which studies energy issues. "The community does seem organized against it, but there is countervailing pressure to build new pipeline capacity."
Any day now, the staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees the location and construction of interstate gas pipelines, is expected to release a final report on the Millennium's effect on the environment. That report, prepared in consultation with other federal and state agencies, is expected to guide the commission's decision, expected as soon as this fall, on whether to approve the pipeline, with or without modifications.
The agency's approval would clear a major hurdle for the pipeline, barring legal challenges. The New York Department of State must also decide whether the pipeline's crossings of Lake Erie and the Hudson would interfere with the state's federally sanctioned plan to manage development in coastal areas.
As its name suggests, the Millennium Pipeline was supposed to be completed a few years ago, in time for the turn-of-the-century celebrations. The Columbia Gas Transmission Company of Fairfax, Va., which proposed the $700 million project in December 1997, has promoted the pipeline as a safe vehicle to transport natural gas, which is increasingly looked at as a cleaner, cheaper fuel for power plants than oil or coal.
The company has won support from some leading New York politicians, including Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, and Representative Benjamin A. Gilman, a Rockland County Republican, who see it as a vital step toward easing the tight electricity supplies and rising prices that have prompted calls for new power plants in or near New York City.
Columbia Gas is seizing the moment. Its New York pipeline would hook up with a proposed 180-mile segment in Ontario, Canada, that, in turn, would connect to an existing transcontinental network tapping vast natural gas reserves in western Canada. The sponsors of the Canadian end are holding off seeking approvals there until a decision is reached in the United States.
The New York pipeline, which would have a diameter of 36 inches for much of its length but 24 inches in Westchester, would carry 700 million cubic feet of gas a day, or enough to supply 6,500 homes for a year. About 80 percent of the line would either replace lines Columbia has operated for 40 years across thinly populated areas of southern New York or be located on utility rights of way. The key new stretches would be the Lake Erie crossing, the Hudson crossing and the route through Westchester.
"We like to think that, after construction is done, this will not impact people's lives going forward, and there is a greater chance people's lives will not be interrupted by power shortages," said David Pentzien, the project manager for the pipeline.
But a wide range of opponents have sought to block its path. The pipeline, environmentalists say, will upset one of the most ecologically sensitive parts of the Hudson by crossing at Haverstraw Bay. Foes here in Mount Vernon, where the pipeline will connect with the Con Ed distribution system, have accused Columbia, despite its denials, of failing to consult with people in the poor, predominantly black neighborhood where the pipeline would end.
Nature lovers are fuming that thousands of trees will be destroyed as construction crews lay the pipe across the Teatown Lake Reservation in Yorktown, the county's largest private nature preserve. The state official charged with protecting the reservoirs supplying New York City's drinking water said the destruction of trees and blasting could cause mud and pollutants in storm- water runoff to contaminate the unsoiled waters.
In a new line of attack, Croton-on- Hudson has discovered dioxin, a chemical carcinogen, in the soil adjacent to the proposed route and is demanding that the energy commission order testing of the soil there. Village officials say they are concerned that pipeline construction will disturb the soil, kicking up the dioxin. And there are the usual concerns from residents about the proximity of the pipeline and the disturbance its construction, and perhaps a natural gas explosion, could cause.
"Our property all backs up to a forest, with deer and coyote, and it is absolutely pristine without this thing," said Dani Glazer, a Croton- on-Hudson resident fighting the pipeline through a group called Not Under My Backyard, whose 100-odd members have paid $32,000 out of their own pockets to hire lawyers to guide their fight. "This thing is destroying lives."
All this adds to the complaints of environmentalists in western New York that dredging for the Millennium, the first gas pipeline to cross Lake Erie, would harm the lake. And the Seneca Indian Nation has raised concerns that the pipeline would disturb areas that may harbor ancient burial grounds.
Most important, opponents dispute the notion that the pipeline is needed. They have suggested that the gas it would supply could be provided instead by a patchwork of existing pipelines in New Jersey and New York, including two interstate pipelines that pass through Westchester, or the proposed expansion of the Iroquois Pipeline from Long Island to the Bronx. But in its preliminary reports on the Millennium, the energy commission has suggested that those alternatives could be impractical and more costly.
Columbia, mindful that the energy commission will not approve a pipeline unless the operator can demonstrate its need, says it has secured commitments from seven companies, which would use 85 percent of the line's capacity.
Con Ed objected to the initial proposed route, on a right of way carrying high-voltage transmission towers that, on a warm day, bring in about 40 percent of New York City and Westchester's electricity. Although Con Edison officials said the danger of an explosion was remote, it could be catastrophic to the power supply. Columbia then shifted the route westward, closer to the Route 9/9A corridor near the riverfront, but the loud protests of a coalition of elected officials and residents blocked the new route.
With the backing of the State Public Service Commission, Columbia announced a third proposed route in April, returning to the Con Edison right of way but moving the pipeline farther from the towers and aligning it with highways, including the Taconic and Saw Mill River Parkways.
This may have mollified some towns, but it angered others, as was clearly noted on July 23 at a gathering of the town leaders from along the route. It was one of the rare times in Westchester that municipal officials have met to brainstorm toward a common purpose, in this case the possibility of proposing yet another route.
"It's like the Balkans here," said Paul Feiner, the supervisor of Greenburgh, who urged the towns to pool legal resources. "We are not going to be successful if everyone is doing this on their own."
Opponents do not put much faith in the energy commission, which they see as a distant, omnipotent Washington agency with little expertise or concern for local matters, as well as a bias toward the oil and gas industries as the Bush administration pushes for increased energy production.
Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the agency did not always side with industry. In April, it rejected the plans of the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Corporation to build 60 miles of new pipe through a densely populated part of northern New Jersey, saying the company failed to demonstrate that it had lined up customers for the gas.
But opponents question how the agency could approve any project facing such a litany of concerns.
"It's not just a Croton issue, it's not just a Westchester County issue," said Karen Wells, an organizer of Not Under My Backyard, which is trying to unite with other detractors. "It's a regional issue. It's a New York State issue. It's a New York City watershed issue, a Great Lakes issue. It's much more."
-- Andre Weltman (email@example.com), August 07, 2001