Residents protest National Grid’s North Brooklyn gas pipeline
"A project that fills National Grid's coffers."
Dozens of North Brooklyn residents and environmental activists grilled National Grid officials at a meeting last Tuesday over a controversial gas pipeline that the business wants to build underneath Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
The utility company plans to install roughly 14,000 feet of a new underground gas main and is asking customers to foot the $185 million cost through rate hikes for the final phase.
Opponents of the Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project allege that the pipes are not safe, that the process will exacerbate climate change and harm the immediate surrounding environment. They also argued they’ve been left in the dark, with little to no communication from National Grid regarding the work that they’re doing.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said he was calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Public Service Commission to say “no” to National Grid’s rate hikes and said the project was “deceptively undertaken.”
“I’m asking them to not reward last year’s egregious behavior with a prize when, like a school yard bully, the corporation held customers hostage by denying them services because they were not getting what they wanted,” Williams said. “The MRI Project is a project that fills National Grid’s coffers, a project that was largely and deceptively undertaken to install transmission pipes that will not serve the community being put at risk and which will harm our environment by increasing our reliance on fracked gas.”
National Grid is installing new transmission pipes, which do not bring additional gas into the city, but rather allow for current gas to move around more flexibly. The project “reinforces and upgrades our local distribution system to improve safety, reliability and resiliency for customers,” according to National Grid.
The project, which was approved by PSC in 2017, is 80 percent complete. Phase one started in Brownsville. Phase four, which is already underway, will extend from Wilson Avenue to Montrose Avenue and is expected to be completed this fall.
Phase four in Bushwick and East Williamsburg has already disrupted businesses, according to residents. One attendee at the meeting said a coffee shop in the neighborhood was forced to shut off their water for a day — and it was not reimbursed.
Phase five, if approved, will extend from Montrose Avenue to Maspeth Avenue near Newtown Creek and is expected to be completed next year.
Attendees at the meeting alleged that National Grid has not been transparent and has done little to no outreach.
“I live two blocks from where National Grid is ripping up our streets to install this pipeline, but only found out about it because my organization got involved in their opaque rate case process, where they are asking for $185 million more in rate hikes,” said Bushwick resident and director of Sane Energy Project Kim Fraczek.
“If National Grid had come to our community from the start, like they claim, they would have learned right away that we absolutely reject our bills going up to pay for a dirty fracked gas pipeline that will harm our safety, health and climate and put tens of thousands of people in the evacuation zone.”
Deborah Spiroff argued that if National Grid was able to contact all of their customers to urge their elected officials to support the controversial Williams Pipeline, then they could have alerted North Brooklyn residents of the work they are currently doing and the work they plan to do.
“Throughout the construction process we have maintained an extensive community outreach program and a website, which is updated regularly to provide information about the ongoing work,” said Karen Young of National Grid. “We are modernizing and reinforcing our energy infrastructure to make them safer, stronger and more reliable for our customers.”
Councilmember Antonio Reynoso demanded answers at the meeting on Tuesday, which was hosted by Community Board 1, and Assemblymember Joe Lentol’s and Councilmember Stephen Levin’s offices also had representatives present who scrutinized the project.
Attendees shared fears of potential explosions, especially in light of the fact that the project runs adjacent to McCarren Park.
National Grid officials tried to assuage attendees by saying that the company has long been embedded in the North Brooklyn community and has given back in countless ways, including donating money to local environmental organizations and leading a clean up along Newtown Creek.
Willis Elkins, executive director of Newtown Creek Alliance, challenged that assertion and referenced the fact that the company is one of the main parties responsible for the pollution in Newtown Creek and that it wants residents to pay for its portion of the cleanup.
“I have some issue with the statements you made earlier about your commitment to the community and being embedded here as a responsible partner,” Elkins said, adding: “You are identified as one of the potentially responsible parties and responsible for the cleanup and yet part of your seeking an increase in ratepayer is to offload 100 percent of the Superfund cost onto the communities that have been burdened by the pollution that your parent company Brooklyn Union Gas caused.
“So my question is: How is that being a responsible community partner?”
National Grid officials said they would have to refer to their environmental department.
Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.
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