Hallets Point Development in Queens Will Go Off-Grid

Developers have officially broken ground on Hallets Point, a $1.5 billion project in Astoria, Queens. When complete, it will be one of the only New York City residential complexes to function independently of the city’s power grid.

The 2.5-million-square-foot development will feature seven planned residential towers, with a total of 2,400 units. Two buildings will house 483 affordable apartments, and according to qns.com, “residents in the neighboring Astoria Houses will have a rental preference for 50 percent of all affordable housing units.”

The development is also slated to include a range of impressive sustainability features beyond its own electrical grid. Hallets Point is a project of the Durst Organization, the developers behind One Bryant Park, the country’s first LEED platinum office building.

Queens Goes Green

The future home of Hallets Point, a 2.5-million-square-foot development featuring seven planned residential towers. Photo credit: The Durst Organization.

Imagine a hot, steamy summer night in New York City—then imagine an electrical brown-out as millions of residents flip on their window air conditioner units after coming home from work. Residents of Hallets Point won’t have to suffer through that sweltering scene, thanks to the project’s innovative on-site cogeneration plants.

According to Jody Durst, president of the Durst Organization, the only connection to any utility at Hallets Point will be gas from Con Edison to fuel the power plants.

And as Capital New York reports:

Those three “co-generating” plants will use that natural gas, whose delivery is not reliant on the electrical grid, to create up to 6.8 megawatts of electricity. The byproduct will be used to heat apartments, heat water and chill water for air conditioning in the summer months.

The facility could be “as much as 80 percent efficient,”  which means that only 20 percent of the energy used to create electricity would be lost. Compare that to conventional buildings which achieve roughly 35% efficiency.

Hallets Point will include other sustainability features as well, such as:

Blackwater reclamation system: will recycle wastewater onsite, using it to to flush toilets and irrigate the complex’s green space. Between the five buildings, the development will eventually process more than 130,000 gallons of water each day, effectively preventing millions of gallons of wastewater from being dumped in the East River.

Elevated shoreline: will prevent erosion and help safeguard the peninsula from rising sea levels. The development will be built in compliance with FEMA and HUD flood plain codes.

Green space: will include more than 100,000 square feet of public access space, extending the Queens East River and North Shore Greenway through the peninsula.

Ferry landing: in conjunction with the city’s current plan to expand ferry access, there will be a Hallets Point landing providing residents with rapid transit to numerous locations throughout Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

The first building of the massive project is slated to open in 2018.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Mayor de Blasio hailed the project as an important milestone for Queens and for New York:

“This has to be a city for everyone, and that’s what we’re doing every day as we build a new generation of affordable housing for families in need. We’re thrilled to get shovels in the ground and bring a long-awaited addition to this community to fruition. This is a project that delivers for the nearby Astoria Houses and strengthens this community with a new school, open space and a supermarket. I congratulate our fellow Queens officials, the local residents and the development team that worked so hard to make this day possible.”


New Rooftop Farm in Queens Will Grow 5 Million Heads of Lettuce Every Year

No more excuses, New York—it’s time to eat your veggies. A massive new rooftop farm has opened in Queens, and the facility could produce up to 5 million heads of leafy greens every year.

According to a press release issued by Governor Cuomo’s office, local farming outfit Gotham Greens has opened its third New York City-based facility, this time atop the Ideal Toy Company factory complex in the Hollis section of Queens. Gotham Greens also operates rooftop farms in the Greenpoint and Gowanus neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

The new 60,000-square foot facility is a climate-controlled greenhouse that will employ automated technologies and ecologically sustainable methods to grow a range of vegetables, including lettuce, kale, bok choy, basil, and tomatoes.

The massive facility nearly triples the amount of local produce Gotham Greens can provide to New York Tri-State area consumers.

An aerial view of the new facility in Queens. Photo credit: Gotham Greens.

Gotham Greens CEO Viraj Puri said:

“Opening this new state-of-the-art greenhouse facility in the middle of winter underscores the innovative story of Gotham Greens. Never before have consumers in our marketplace been able to get locally grown produce this fresh at this time of year. After the recent record breaking blizzard, our freshly harvested produce was on supermarket shelves the very next day.”

A Gotham Greens employee harvesting basil. Photo credit: Gotham Greens.

Funding for the new rooftop farm was provided by The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. According to the press release:

These funds helped pay for the installation of high-efficiency lighting, cooling and automated crop production systems. Energy efficiency is a major component of Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) to build a clean, resilient and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers, as the State works to reduce energy use in buildings by 23 percent by 2030.

Gotham Greens facilities are 100% powered by renewable energy. Computer control systems ensure that climate control equipment operates efficiently, reducing heating demand and fossil fuel use. Combined with highly efficient production techniques, the farms are capable of producing 50% more crop than conventional greenhouses while using 25% less energy per pound of crop produced.

New York State Empire State Development is also providing Gotham Greens with up to $152,000, in Excelsior Jobs Program Tax Credits in exchange for Gotham Greens’ commitment to create and sustain a minimum of 46 full-time jobs through 2024. They are currently at 40 full time jobs and expect to exceed more than 50 in the next few months.


Light it Up: Manhattan Skyscraper Now Powered by Queens Solar Panels

Solar power is hot, hot, hot in New York State. The industry is growing at a rapid clip, increasing more than 300% since 2011, and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon—especially in New York City. In fact, the de Blasio administration announced today that NYC solar installations have more than doubled since his mayoral term began.

Last week, EnterSolar, a New York City-based company, announced the launch of the landmark Bloomberg-JFK Airport Park Solar Project. Located in Springfield Gardens, the large-scale panel installation will allow Bloomberg, LP to partially power its global headquarters in Midtown Manhattan as well as its downtown data center using solar energy.

Looking north from the 43rd floor of 601 Lexington Ave. Credit: Andrew Mace https://flic.kr/p/7zMYCj
Bloomberg tower. Photo credit: Andrew Mace/Creative Commons

The project utilizes a program called “Remote Net Metering,” which enables sites with poor solar characteristics to benefit from a solar system on an alternative site with excellent solar characteristics.

In this case, a 1,500 kW solar installation across three adjacent warehouses at the JFK Airport Park in Queens, will generate power which will be converted to energy credits and applied to Bloomberg’s offices in Manhattan.

Councilman Donovan Richards cuts the ribbon at the launch of the Bloomberg-JFK Airport Park Solar Project in Queens. Photo credit: Donovan Richard's office
Councilman Donovan Richards cuts the ribbon at the launch of the Bloomberg-JFK Airport Park Solar Project in Queens. Photo credit: Donovan Richard’s office

The multi-building system is the largest rooftop solar array in Queens and among the largest rooftop solar projects in the state. Comprised of over 5,500 solar panels, the project is expected to produce 1.8 million kWh of clean energy annually, enough to power 244 homes and eliminate 535 metric tons of carbon per year.

A Continuing Ethos

This isn’t the first time Bloomberg has invested in solar energy. In 2012, the company launched a “ground-mounted” solar system in Skillman, NJ, consisting of 5,520 panels that provide their 100,000-square-foot New Jersey facility with 48% of its annual energy use. The company also has solar panels installed on top of their San Francisco office.

“The ethos that Mike [Bloomberg] brought to the city around Plan NYC and his approach to sustainability wasn’t just for the city—it’s also part of what he does with philanthropy and what we do with the company,” explained Michael Marinello,Global Head of Communications for Tech, Innovation and Sustainability. “We’re committed to it because our founder is committed to it and what he does, and it’s part of what we believe in, too.”


It’s a Fish-stery: Carp Go Belly-Up in Queens Lake

UPDATE: April 2, 2015
In December, we reported on this mystery fish kill in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. At the time, NYC Parks had conducted some preliminary testing, but results were not yet released. We promised to follow-up later in the spring. Here’s what we found.

According to NYC Parks, no additional fish kills have been witnessed in Flushing Meadows. Pathology tests conducted on several fish were inconclusive; nothing notable was found in water samples from Willow Lake.

Marit Larson, Director of Wetlands and Riparian Restoration for NYC Parks, told NYER:
“To better understand what caused these incidents, we have consulted extensively with NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation and Brooklyn College. We have no clear answer at this time, but we believe that low dissolved oxygen may have played a factor.

Fish kills can have multiple causes and contributing factors. We will have one water quality sensor collecting data on dissolved oxygen, salinity and temperature in both Meadow and Willow Lakes over a portion of the summer, which we hope will give us some idea of the dissolved oxygen dynamics and stressor that could impact fish. In the mean time, we are continuing to review any land management practices around the Lake that may be impacting conditions.”

Something is killing fish in the waters of Willow Lake, but no one, including the Parks Department, seems to know exactly what it might be.

Since late October, park-goers and park officials have reported dozens of dead fish lining the shores of the 45-acre lake located in the southern portion of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The Daily News reported seeing large numbers as recently as November 21, on both on the western edge of the lake near the walking bridge, and by the bird blind on the eastern side.

Spokeswoman for the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Meghan Lalor told NYER that “many dead fish of several species were observed, including gizzard shad, American eels, white perch, and carp.”

Officials have been looking into this issue with several agencies, as well as limnologists (who study inland waters like lakes and streams) and fisheries experts. Lalor noted that fish kills have happened before at Willow Lake, and suggested that the cause may be “due to a number of different factors, from low dissolved oxygen to temperature to algae.”

“Evaluation is ongoing, hopefully we will have a definite answer within a few weeks,” said Lalor.

Something Fishy?

Willow Lake Preserve gate. Photo credit: Matt Green/Creative Commons.

Originally created in 1939 for the New York World’s Fair, Willow Lake is a manmade waterbody flanked by the 106-acre Willow Lake Preserve. In recent years, the Parks Department has attempted to revitalize the area by transforming it into a wildlife preserve with hiking trails.

Part of this plan includes removing 14 acres of invasive species using herbicidal chemicals—some park goers suspect this may be the cause behind the recent aquatic casualties.

“I spotted a sign that they were spraying pesticide so I stayed away from there,” local resident Stan Zompakos told the Daily News. “The week after that I went to the bird blind and saw a lot of fish that had died.”

Zompakos photographed signs in the area that indicated the herbicide Accord XRT II had been applied. This Material Data Safety Sheet from Dow Chemical describes the chemical as “Highly toxic to fish and/or other aquatic organisms.”

When asked about the herbicide application, Lalor responded: “We applied the herbicide by hand to targeted upland areas and specific invasive species. There was a 40-foot buffer between where that was applied and the lake – as you can see at the site the phragmites surrounding the lake remain.”

She added, “Although it is unlikely that this would have caused the fish kills, we are looking at all possible causes.”

Willow Lake is not open for recreational fishing.

NYER plans to follow up with the Parks Department once results are in. Stay tuned.

Reporter’s Notebook: Fare Thee Well, Rockaway Ferry

Much to the chagrin of local residents, the Rockaway ferry, which motored each weekday between Rockaway, Queens and downtown Manhattan, sailed its final voyage on the evening of Halloween.

The city began the commuter service two years ago, after the A train tracks were damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and it quickly became a beloved addition to the otherwise meager transportation options on the peninsula. While the 50-minute ride was only available on weekdays, it provided a literal breath of fresh air to those accustomed to a much longer journey underground.

For many Rockaway residents, the ferry was not only a physical link to the rest of New York City, but an emotional one—a symbolic reminder that despite the ongoing issues with Build it Back and boardwalk construction, the mayor had not completely forgotten about Rockaway’s post-Sandy struggles.

According to the City, two and a half times as many buildings were destroyed in Southern Queens during Sandy, compared to the rest of New York.

And yet, despite strong efforts from local politicians and civic leaders, the City claimed it could not find funding to make the service permanent. “This is something we tried six ways to Sunday to make it work,” said Kyle Kimball, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, at a recent town hall meeting.

Eager to experience the unique ride, Sarah and I headed out to Rockaway for one of the ferry’s last trips. We stashed our car in the Superfund-site-turned-parking lot by the water treatment plant, scurried across Beach Channel Drive, and climbed aboard just in time for the 4:30 departure.

Inside, the mood was festive, the beer line long. Bartenders greeted passengers by name while slinging bottles of Coors, Budweiser, and Miller Lite, plus the occasional plastic tumbler of red wine. As the engine revved, Batman glided on board, followed by a gaggle of assorted superheroes and zombies. The air horn sounded and a puff of exhaust shot out: we were on our way.

Bottles clinked, cheers rang out.

The Life Aquatic

Departing Rockaway. Photo credit: Emily Manley via NYER.

As the ferry raced along at a surprisingly fast clip, we made our way around the top deck. At the front of the lounge we found Ann from Neponsit, on her way to Pier 11 to meet her husband for a final ride home together. She shook her head when we asked her about the ferry’s demise: “It’s terrible. The Rockaways are just not a priority” she sighed.

Ann’s daily commute will now double in length, a hardship many of the ferry’s supporters cite, thanks to the Rockaway’s single subway line and unreliable network of buses and shuttles. “But what are you gonna do?” she wondered, tucking her hair behind her ear. “You just hope for the best.”

We talked a few minutes more about climate resiliency programs, Build it Back, and her lingering disappointment with the City’s Sandy recovery: “mismanaged from the beginning.” Before we left, she gave us her personal message to Mayor de Blasio: “Oh, he’s still got a tale of two cities. We live in New York City, too.”

Across the aisle, we found Rockaway native Brian Gillen and 30-year-resident Joe Mara tucked into a corner booth at a table scattered with empties. Rather than mourning the loss of the ferry, though, they seemed to be toasting its glorious two-year run.

“Yeah, it’s sad because it’s such an amazing way to get into the city. Especially if you compare it to the A train, which is like this communal gloom and depression,” Brian explained, and then grinned. “But here, there’s a bar on board! There’s the view. And everything’s always a little more festive.”

On a more sober note, Brian also questioned the administration’s ongoing commitment to his hometown. How could the Rockaways ever become a thriving outpost of New York City without the infrastructure to support that development?

“If you look up and down the coast, this is the only town that has the most decrepit seaside,” he scoffed.”It’s insane, this is the worst seaside on the whole Eastern coast. And it really could be developed, but you know, politics, money, and all that.”

At the booth directly behind Brian and Joe we found Christa Victoria. For most of the ride, her eyes had been glued to the window. Her normal commute, she recounted, took an hour and a half, so the ferry’s 50 minute sail “has been absolutely, incredibly wonderful. Anytime I felt bad or aggravated, the water would just soothe it.”

Rockaway resident Christa Victoria, on deck as we arrive in Manhattan. Photo credit: Emily Manley via NYER.

But she, too, questioned the city’s decision. “My thinking is, why are they canceling the ferry if they are trying to get businesses open in Rockaway? If they are trying to get people to Rockaway? Nobody wants to take a subway and then a bus to get to the beach or get to the main drag.”

Our pondering was interrupted by John, a signal maintainer for the MTA whose commute, post-ferry, will be a three-hour ordeal. “They’re[The City] subsidizing it [the ferry]. It’s $30 a trip that they’re paying for us to ride on this. $30!” he said. “Everything costs something. That’s the reality.”

He seemed conflicted: his experience in the transit industry made him a realist, but something told him things might be more complicated. He took a chug of beer, and added with a grumble, “Who is going to pay that much money for the Rockaways? There’s not enough stockbrokers that live in the Rockaways or Belle Harbor.”

And with a jolt, the boat docked at Pier 11. Wall Street. We debarked.

The Rockaway ferry bar, after the passengers have gone. Photo credit: Emily Manley via NYER.

Friday Night’s Alright

Sarah and I exited the ferry and hopped back into the line for the next departure. As we approached the attendants, I realized my ticket had gone missing. Before I could locate it, a man popped out of line and shoved one into my hands. “Here,” he said. “I’ve got an extra. Don’t need it anymore.” (Coincidentally that man turned out to be Ann from Neponsit’s husband.)

As the after-work crowd lined the bar, we found Eileen Kugel sitting calmly in the downstairs lounge. A daily ferry commuter who lives a half a block from the beach in Rockaway, Eileen’s voice was quiet but her frustration palpable.

“They should’ve left it,” she said of the ferry. “We’ve been through so much in Rockaway. They should’ve left us with our ferry. We don’t ask for much. We have no boardwalk. They’re saying three years—2017—they’ll have the boardwalk done. Jersey has theirs. Long Beach has theirs. We got nothing.”

Hurricane Sandy filled Eileen’s basement with water—water that came within an inch of flooding her first floor, too. She was lucky in that she had adequate flood insurance that paid for the bulk of the repairs, but it appears as though not much was done to prepare for the next storm. “I can’t elevate my house,” she explained. “These houses are old, my house was built in the 1920s. The houses are plaster, you try and raise that.”

Eileen’s comments echoed others we heard that evening: a sense of isolation, a feeling that the Rockaways were both forgotten and a dumping ground for the rest of New York City. It made us wonder, how can you effectively prepare a community for climate change if they don’t feel like a priority? With the exception of isolated sections of Far Rockaway, the entire peninsula now lies within the 100-year floodplain.

The Verrazano Bridge, from the top deck of the ferry. Photo credit: Emily Manley via NYER.

We stepped outside to get some air. I stood next to a gentleman for a good two minutes, both of us quietly taking in the Verrazano vista, before noticing the giant bloody gash painted on his cheek. I remembered it was Halloween.

Upstairs on the deck, under the orange glow of the ferry’s lights, a crowd of passengers braved the sharp wind for an incredible view. A group of men in suits raised their beers in a salute as their friend snapped a photo on his iPhone.

Standing alone, looking out over the lights of Coney Island, we found Irina Pistsov, a young Rockaway-based graphic designer. “It’s sad,” she said of the ferry’s last trip, “but at the same time it’s really exciting because I see now people are really appreciating it. I started riding it a couple of months ago, and every ride is like magic to me.

She gestured to the crowd. “And right now I see that 90 percent of the boat feels the magic.”

Rockaway-based graphic designer Irina Pistsov, with the lights of Coney Island in the background. Photo credit: Emily Manley via NYER.

As the shadow of the peninsula came into view, we knew our time on the boat was short. Our last conversation was, perhaps fittingly, at the bar with Alex Dunn and Jack Meade.

Alex, who works just a few blocks from Pier 11, has been riding the ferry daily. “We definitely really needed this at first, after Sandy,” he recalls. “It became something that, became not just getting us back to normal, but a positive. It was a good thing for the community.”

He didn’t seem convinced by the city’s financial decision to end the service, either. “[The Staten Island ferry] just got a million dollars in repairs, we can’t get a subsidy to even have a ferry?” he asked. “We don’t need repairs, we don’t need anything fancy. The ferry’s a big deal for us.” His friend Jack nodded in silent agreement.

Lower Manhattan as seen from the Rockaway ferry.

After a moment of thought, Alex said, “But you know, we’ve been through a lot before. Nine-eleven hit Breezy and Rockaway really hard, and the plane crash on November 12, and you know, we always pull ourselves up and get back into the swing of things and get ourselves together. This was nice while it lasted, but I don’t know. I guess you can’t have everything. We’ll get by.”

The engine cut, and for a split-second the entire boat was hushed as we came to rest at Beach 108th. Then a whistle cut through the silence and a round of applause erupted.

Queens’ ‘Forgotten River’ Looks Ahead to Cleanup and Change

Nathan Kensinger’s Camera Obscura column at Curbed is back this week with a look at the Flushing River in Queens, and a hands-on lesson in nature’s persistence, even in the face of decades of human development and destruction.

Kensinger deems it “one of the most tortured waterways in New York City,” and as he follows the river’s altered four-mile path through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and into Flushing Bay, it’s easy to see why.

Forced along an artificial route, the river emerges from underneath an MTA train yard, transforms into man-made Willow Lake and Meadow Lake, squeezes into narrow canals underneath a maze of highway overpasses, fills the Pool of Industry and the Fountain of the Planets, and passes through an underground pipe into the Pitch ‘N Putt pond. 

Workers have hand planted 90,000 native marsh grasses along the river’s banks. Photo credit: Nathan Kensinger.

The banks of the waterway are lined with storage facilities, auto repair shops, train tracks and bulkheads; its body is criss-crossed by bridges, highways, and overpasses. Because many of the natural marshlands have been destroyed, the river floods often, even with the slightest rainfall. And as if these indignities weren’t enough,

“the area’s waters receive approximately 10 truckloads of human feces a year from sewer overflows,” according to the Times Ledger.

An unused cove between a U-Haul truck depot and a concrete plant. Photo credit: “Nathan Kensinger.

But Kensinger catches glimmers of hope beneath the sludge and muck, too. Fish and turtles that survive despite the pollution, Parks Department efforts to restore marsh grasses and wetlands, and

The Willow Lake Preserve, which recently reopened. In 2011, the Parks Department planted over 13,000 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 66,000 herbaceous plants here, according to a sign posted onsite.

See more at Curbed: Queens’ ‘Forgotten River’ Looks Ahead to Cleanup and Change

Queens Residents Hope Sewer Upgrades Will Reduce Flooding

A flood-plagued section of Far Rockaway, Queens will finally dry out this summer thanks to a $22 million sewer and water main upgrade conducted by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

The infrastructure project will add storm sewers and catch basins to select streets, and replace more than a mile of existing sanitary sewers—a slew of improvements that residents feel are long overdue.

Frequent Flooding

Streets that will be upgraded. Image via NYC DEP.

The network of streets, situated in the northwest corner of Far Rockaway at the end of Mott Basin, has been experiencing severe flooding for at least a year.

The floodwaters are believed to be overflow from the sewer and nearby Jamaica Bay. Some residents claim the issue has been an ongoing one since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and exacerbated by alterations to Battery Road.

Charles Burkhead, who has lived on Pinson Street in Far Rockaway for 10 years, said that previous DEP solutions, including pumping, have not been successful. “My yard is full of water. The sidewalk is full of water which freezes up and turns to ice [during the winter months]. The street has large pot holes under the water which causes cars to get stuck,” he told The Wave.

Other residents have begun referring to the floodwaters in jest as “Lake Pinson.” But what was at first a nuisance is now a full-fledged safety hazard: ambulances and school buses struggle to cross flooded streets, and the standing water has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Inadequate Infrastructure

Photo credit: NYC DEP
Photo credit: NYC DEP

According to the DEP, most of the streets in Far Rockaway are not currently equipped with the proper drainage infrastructure to handle the amount of water and runoff they currently receive.

“Many of the streets in this neighborhood were privately built, and either have inadequate drainage or no storm sewers at all,” said DDC Commissioner Dr. Feniosky Peña-Mora in a press release.

The upgrades slated for this summer will include the installation of side-by-side 9-foot by 4-foot storm water sewers. While the roadway is opened, the City will also replace more than a mile of distribution water mains. DEP Spokesperson Edward Timbers told NYER, “The new storm sewers, including the side-by-side barrel lines, will help to reduce flooding. And the new sanitary lines will reduce backups.”

Part of a Larger Plan

Photo credit: NYC DEP
Photo credit: NYC DEP

According to Timbers, the work in Far Rockaway this summer, slated to be finished in 2016, is just one of many projects that were drawn up as part of an area-wide drainage plan for the Rockaways.

Indeed, sewer and storm water improvements in southeast Queens are one of the goals are outlined in the DEP’s Strategy 2011-2014 document, which states that the City will:

Build out and upgrade the sewer network in southeast Queens, Staten Island, and other neighborhoods that need additional capacity. A robust sewer expansion and replacement program is essential to protecting public health and improving the ecology of New York Harbor.

DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd noted in a statement: “We are committed to building out and upgrading the City’s sewer and water infrastructure and over the next 10 years we are planning for more than $700 million worth of similar projects throughout Queens.”

Chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection Donovan Richards praised the current project. “This $22 million sewer and water main upgrade means residents will no longer spend days marooned by dirty water after it rains,” he said. “This is just one of the many projects slated for our district, and I am proud to continue our partnership as we make New York City more resilient.”

2nd Half of Rockaway Pipeline Project Receives Final Go-Ahead

Oklahoma-based Williams Companies has received the green light from federal regulators to begin construction on sections of the Rockaway Pipeline.

Based on the recommendation of its environmental reviewers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted on May 8th to issue a “certificate of public convenience and necessity…authorizing the construction and operation of the Rockaway Project facilities.”

Directly Connecting the Five Boroughs to the Transco Pipeline

The anchor element of the project is a new 3-mile feeder line off the Rockaway coast which Williams Companies will connect to its existing 10,500 mile Transco Pipeline. The Transco pipeline runs all the way from Texas to the New York-New Jersey area.

The new feeder line will travel along the ocean floor toward Jacob Riis Park, and then underneath it, delivering gas to new mains below Jamaica Bay. Those mains have been completed by National Grid.

In a later phase of construction, National Grid will connect its new cross-Bay lines to customers in Brooklyn and Queens via a new gas meter and regulating station to be housed within a historic hangar at Floyd Bennett Field. Gas entering the meter station will eventually link to an existing gas main on Flatbush Avenue.

The 60,000 square foot meter station at Floyd Bennett Field will also be constructed by Williams.

A Green Light with Conditions

The Commission’s order does come with a series of conditions designed to mitigate the environmental impacts of the project. For instance, prior to construction, Williams must:

“File an assessment identifying the specific additives that would be used in the [off-shore] horizontal directional drilling fluid, including…the concentration and dilution rates for each additive; an evaluation of the toxicity of each additive; [and] an evaluation of the potential for bioaccumulation of each additive in the food chain.”

FERC’s reviewers have requested this information previously: questions about the drilling fluid to be used in constructing the off-shore trench were included in the agency’s Environmental Impact Statement released in February.

Recent Safety Issues for Williams

Photo credit: The Creole
Photo credit: The Creole

Earlier this month, Bloomberg News reported that, “Williams…the fourth-biggest U.S. pipeline operator, is studying its safety practices after a series of incidents including a fatal Louisiana explosion in June and a fire last week at a natural gas-processing plant in Wyoming.

“The April 23 fire shut down the gas plant near Opal, Wyoming, and forced the evacuation of the town as a precaution. That followed a March 31 explosion at a liquefied gas storage facility in Plymouth, Washington, that led to another evacuation,” says the Bloomberg story.

“In December, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a $99,000 fine against…Williams following a June explosion at a processing plant in Geismar, Louisiana. Two workers were killed and 80 were injured when a fireball erupted at the plant.”

In its authorization for the Rockaway project, the Commission notes that, “several [outside] commenters expressed concern about the potential for fire or explosion, availability of fire hydrants and firefighting equipment, remote monitoring of the pipeline, emergency response…”

These concerns have been addressed by Williams, said the Commission in its order.

“Transco proposed a more stringent design for the Rockaway Project than is required by the [federal Department of Transportation] regulations,” the Commission stated.

Questions from the Community

As we reported in February, the complex Rockaway project has attracted considerable attention from community organizations because of its location within a national park, its proximity to marine life, and the vulnerability of the Rockaway coastline to catastrophic storms.

In its authorization, the Commission discusses additional concerns raised by local groups, such as why the National Grid and Williams sections of the project were not reviewed jointly and whether this “segmentation” of the project was a violation of federal environmental law.

The Commission argues that they have no jurisdiction over National Grid’s sections of the project, even though National Grid’s half of the pipeline is dependent on Williams.

“Improper segmentation arises when a federal project, i.e., a major Federal action, has been segmented into separate projects to avoid compliance with NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act],” writes the Commission.

“Contrary to the suggestion of the project opponents, the National Grid pipeline will not function as a Commission-jurisdictional transmission facility [as opposed to a more local distribution line].

Therefore, the Commission had no authority to prevent construction of the facilities commencing prior to the completion of our environmental review of Transco’s proposed facilities,” they conclude.

And the Commission does not accept the argument put forward by some opponents that the Rockaway Pipeline will stimulate more gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale, leading to regional environmental degradation.

Most of the gas coming from the Rockaway Pipeline- eight-five percent, the Commission says- would have made it into the New York City area anyway, because of existing Transco/Williams delivery points off the coast of Long Island.

Construction to Start at Floyd Bennett Field

Photo credit: H.L.I.T. via Creative Commons
Photo credit: H.L.I.T. via Creative Commons

On Thursday, Williams wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, stating that it will begin work on converting two hangars at Floyd Bennett Field into the planned meter and regulating station.

“[We are] planning to commence stabilization-related activities, described in the attached table, at Hangars 1 & 2 as soon as the lease agreement with the National Park Service is executed,” the company noted.

Keeping Southeast Queens Above Water

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection announced yesterday that it had completed installation of storm sewers and catch basins to alleviate flooding along 113th Avenue, between 156th and 157th Streets, and 111th Avenue, between 155th and 158th Streets.

DEP says that it has initiated a number of smaller, targeted projects to manage stormwater and reduce flooding in southeast Queens, while a multi-year effort to construct a comprehensive storm sewer system for the area continues. The $6 billion sewer project is part of the city’s capital construction program.

Some community members say that the city has waited far too long to act. In a December 5th opinion piece in the New York Daily News, Keisha Phillips-Kong and E. Thomas Oliver wrote, “it is regrettable that it takes such a dramatic and deadly event [Superstorm Sandy] to focus the minds of political leaders on a long-standing and growing problem. In southeast Queens, flooding is a fact of life…our flooding has been going on for more than 40 years. Even a minor rainstorm causes water to rise in our basements, yards and streets. Some residents have bought canoes so that they can paddle to higher ground when the rains arrive.”

Phillips-Kong and Oliver added, “Public policy, such as it is, has only worsened the problem. Overdevelopment was allowed without any provision for the extension of sufficient sewer lines to those neighborhoods. Natural drainage areas like swamps and streams were covered over by builders, with little done to provide alternative ways to siphon off water.”

“Consequently, the water table has risen significantly ever since the city stopped pumping the wells of the old Jamaica Water Company. Add climate change to this equation, and it is clear that the flooding problems in our area will only worsen unless aggressive action is taken,” they concluded.

The city acknowledged in a DEP press release that the commercial and residential development of southeast Queens had outpaced the extension of the city’s sewer system. “Many of these neighborhoods are not yet equipped with catch basins or storm sewers to drain precipitation from the roadways,” the DEP said.

DEP engineers used GIS and hydraulic modeling, along with input from elected officials, community groups, and reports of flooding logged with the city’s 311 system, to conduct a block by block analysis of the area’s most flood prone locations.

The city said that there are a number of other locations currently under consideration for upgrades similar to those on 111th and 113th Avenues. Building out and upgrading the sewer system in southeast Queens is one of the operational goals in DEP’s strategic plan to make it “the safest, most efficient, cost-effective, and transparent water utility in the nation.”

Other projects, either ongoing or in the planning and design phase, in southeast Queens include nine miles of storm sewers and eight miles of sanitary sewers in Springfield Gardens; a $26 million upgrade for the Brookville Boulevard area; high level storm sewers for the Twin Ponds neighborhood; and an additional sewer line under 183rd Street at Jamaica Avenue.