Coronavirus: National Grid halts North Brooklyn Pipeline construction after outcry
"It took a tremendous amount of pressure ... This community is not going to forget it."
Construction on National Grid’s North Brooklyn Pipeline was halted on Thursday afternoon after residents, activists and elected officials complained that the utility company was endangering its employees by sending them to work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the city and state’s orders for residents to stay at home as much as possible, and aggressive measures put in place to encourage social distancing, work on the controversial project had proceeded with employees in close contact, according to witnesses.
National Grid spokesperson Karen Young told the Brooklyn Eagle that their field force was following Center for Disease Control guidelines, including social distancing, while performing work — but photos taken on Thursday afternoon clearly show workers closer than the required six feet of separation. (She added that there were no reports of positive cases at the site.)
“We are buttoning up some in-flight projects to ensure they can be safely suspended during the pandemic,” she said. “We are in the process of concluding any construction necessary to secure these job sites so that the projects can be temporarily halted.”
State Senator Julia Salazar celebrated the decision, but said the project should cease entirely — even after the pandemic passes.
The temporary halt to construction is “a victory for the workers and their families who need to be protected from COVID-19, and also a small victory for our communities who have been demanding a stop to the NBK pipeline construction,” Salazar said.
“Now is the time for National Grid to put their resources toward a just transition, not toward expanding gas infrastructure,” she added.
The company is currently building an underground gas main beneath Williamsburg and Greenpoint that residents have opposed, citing risk of explosions, health hazards, higher bills and climate impacts.
The business plans to install about 14,000 feet of pipes and is asking customers to foot the $185 million bill for the final phase of the project through rate hikes .
In a letter sent on Monday to National Grid President John Bruckner, more than 60 local residents, 100 neighboring customers and 50 organizations called for a moratorium on the pipeline.
Bruckner had claimed in a series of virtual public meetings that the construction was “emergency” work as part of the settlement agreement with the state over the divisive moratorium on the Williams Gas Pipeline.
The North Brooklyn project was approved by the Public Service Commission in 2017 and is 80 percent complete. Parts of the pipeline have already been built in East New York, Brownsville, Bushwick and East Williamsburg. Phase four, already underway, will extend from Wilson Avenue to Montrose Avenue and is expected to be completed this fall. That portion of the project has already disrupted businesses in Bushwick and East Williamsburg.
Phase five will extend from Montrose Avenue to Maspeth Avenue near Newtown Creek and is expected to be completed next year.
“The people of North Brooklyn are taking this pandemic seriously. We’re sheltering in our homes to protect our neighbors and the people that we love. And while we were doing that, buying food and medicine and checking in on the elderly people on our block, National Grid was working around the clock to keep up construction on this pipeline,” said Greenpoint resident Kevin Lacherra.
“It took a tremendous amount of pressure to get them to this point. It’s unconscionable and this community is not going to forget it.”
Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.
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