A Tenuous Balance: Surfing and Development in the Rockaways

Editor’s Note: The growing number of surfers—and new residents—in the Rockaways has attracted significant public attention. A recent New York Times article focuses on the conflict between residents (new and old) and surfers who both feel they have a claim to the area.

Underlying these developments is the sobering fact that the Rockaway Peninsula is one of the most vulnerable areas of New York City relative to climate change. FEMA’s recently revised 100-year flood maps now include virtually the entire peninsula and its 100,000-plus residents. During Superstorm Sandy, sections of the Rockaways experienced 14-foot storm surges.

NYER contributor Jason Leahey spent some time exploring the Rockaways this summer and this is what he saw.


According to Jeff Anthony, the intersection of Beach 67th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard used to be, “just stray dogs and dune grass and garbage.” Then thousands of townhouses, in shades of cream and wash-worn blue, appeared. Then Superstorm Sandy hit land.

And today, the Rockaways are home to a booming surf scene.

Anthony, an instructor for Skudin Surf, one of a handful of schools that operate on the beach, grew up on this strip of sand crimped between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic. Standing on his boogie board by age seven, he grew into a member of a small but dedicated local surf scene. The Rockaways were different then. More off-the-map. Miles of beach were completely closed.

Around fifteen years ago, “train surfers” who lived across the city began hopping the A line with their boards and hitting the beach in the Rockaways.

Map of the Rockaway Peninsula. Some of the most devastating destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy took place in the western portion of the peninsula. The City reported that high-velocity waves struck unprotected neighborhoods like Belle Harbor, Neponsit, Roxbury, and Breezy Point, smashing structures facing the ocean. Fires also broke out in some of these neighborhoods during Sandy, causing further destruction.
Map of the Rockaway Peninsula. Some of the most devastating destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy took place in the western portion of the peninsula. The City reported that high-velocity waves struck unprotected neighborhoods like Belle Harbor, Neponsit, Roxbury, and Breezy Point, smashing structures facing the ocean. Fires also broke out in some of these neighborhoods during Sandy, causing further destruction.

Then, three years ago, Sandy put the Rockaways on a heap of New Yorkers’ personal maps of the city. And they started coming, too.

Surge in Surfers

The surf schools, spread beneath logoed shade canopies along the sand from 67th to 69th Streets, do significant business. On a Wednesday afternoon in August, Anthony and two other instructors wrapped up a class of six- to twelve-year-olds by calling them into a huddle, whispering words of encouragement, and leading them as they raised their hands in the air and cheered. The kids scampered.

Thirty minutes later, the men were leading a class of teenagers from a local religious camp, guiding them through their stretches, delivering advice: “Definitely drop into that second wave; you need to lean up and back,” and quizzing them on the effects of the sun’s heat on water. “If you’re a surfer, you also have to be a meteorologist,” Anthony stated. A few yards down the beach in each direction, other instructors taught individuals, pairs, groups of three.

Lauren Monte, a Brooklynite, moved here ten years ago. Her seven- and twelve-year-olds are spending their second summer surfing. She told how the schools lead beach cleanups, how they pooled together money to buy a board for a kid who couldn’t afford one, and how they work with groups of people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. “It’s a very giving community,” she said.

These days, there are surf instructors who have moved here from South Africa, Germany, and Hawaii. There are surfers who live in Puerto Rico or Costa Rica the rest of the year but come to the Rockaways to live and surf in the summer.

Now, on any decent summer Saturday, anywhere from fifty to 100 surfers cram into the water from 67th to 69th, one of the two surf zones approved by the Parks Department (the other is at 88th Street). Some of these surfers are the old hands, some are beginners with a few local lessons under their belts, some are utter novices. What had been a small community of the experienced has turned, since Sandy, into a major weekend scene.

“It’s gotten to the point,” Anthony said, describing the sheer number of New Yorkers paddling out, “where it’s almost dangerous.”

But it’s also a part of a local boon.

A Local Boon

When you get off the 67th Street A stop, the first thing you encounter is a miniature strip mall: one short block of uniform white and blue architecture that starts with an Assemblyman’s office, ends in a Thai restaurant, and feels as crisp and clean as a pair of fresh bed sheets.

Across the street, the townhouses are part of Arverne by the Sea, a 2,300-home oceanfront community that withstood Sandy’s onslaught and continues to grow. A full city block is now framed in forest-green construction walls, the buckets of backhoes rearing up into view, swiveling, dumping their loads of dirt.

New businesses and restaurants have opened as well. The boardwalk is being rebuilt. Local New York State Assembly members have begun lobbying the City to expand the surf zones, citing the economic possibilities.

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The Rockaway Boardwalk. The section between Beach 86th and Beach 107th streets was re-opened this summer. The City says that the boardwalk will be continuously complete by Memorial Day 2016, with intact sections of the old boardwalk and new sections linked together. The boardwalk will be entirely completed as new construction by Memorial Day 2017. Photo: CBS News

“After Sandy, people came and started patronizing the beach,” Anthony said. “Patronizing the beach led to the concessions turning into these new areas with great new food instead of just fries and burgers. There are restaurants, a nightlife. I can go out with my girlfriend now and I don’t have to just get bar food. I can get Uzbecki food; I can get Thai food; I can get great American gastropub food.” Uncle Louie G’s, the Italian ice mainstay of Brooklyn, recently opened a new store on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and 92nd.

Change Brings Conflict

This change hasn’t been without conflict. The surfers, organized into the Rockaway Beach Surfers Association, want an expanded surfing area to keep the students safe and enable the scene to keep growing. Many Arverne residents are fighting that effort because they want to swim in the ocean right in front of their homes—the same stretch of water in which the surf schools operate—but are currently forbidden to because of a lack of City personnel for lifeguarding.

And then there are the long-term residents, including some from the Sandy-devastated southwest tip of the peninsula, who are also unhappy with all the new attention and attractions.

Surfing instruction on the Rockaway coast. Photo: Jason Leahey
Surfing instruction on the Rockaway coast. Photo: Jason Leahey

Seen in transition like this, gentrification inevitably springs to mind. But developers and entrepreneurs didn’t demolish the old boardwalk or call attention to the overlooked possibility of a New York life lived in a beach town. Climate change did.

In 2015, the Rockaways have been discovered by a new generation of New Yorkers who, not that long ago, watched sections of it drown and burn on the news. They take the A train out and surf and eat and spend their money in the community. NY1 named Rockaway Beach the best beach of the year. Unless the next big storm dictates otherwise, the growth does not look like it will stop any time soon, and the swelling popularity of a once-secret surfing spot does not either.

“Sandy made this new surfing culture,” Anthony said, “where everybody from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan wants to come and give it a try. I say bring ‘em. Everything’s coming. It’s gonna bring better roads, a better boardwalk. I’ll take that change any day.”


Jason Leahey is a writer, musician, and teaching artist living in Brooklyn for fifteen years. He blogs about food and gardening at PitchKnives & Butter Forks and runs the Maribar Writers Colony at Cricket Hill, and his band Commonwealth Revival can next be seen at Brooklyn’s Rock Shop on November 13, 2015. 

This is Jason’s first article for New York Environment Report.

Is the Largest Offshore Wind Farm in the U.S. Coming to New York City and Long Island?

Described as what could be the largest offshore wind farm in the United States, the Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project is working its way through a multi-year federal review process. If everything goes as planned, almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines will eventually be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula.

Now’s your chance to see what the project could actually look like.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is hosting four public open houses (in Brooklyn, Long Island and New Jersey) to share the results of a recently completed “visualization” study. They are asking for the public’s input on “our renewable energy planning efforts in Federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore New York.”

The Long Island – New York City wind farm could yield as much as 700 MW of energy—enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes. The project is a collaborative effort between Con Edison, the Long Island Power Authority, and the New York Power Authority.

Could the New York project become one of the world’s largest wind farms?

The New York project has the potential to rival the London Array, currently the world’s largest operational offshore wind farm, which opened in July 2013. Located 13 miles off the Kent coast in the outer Thames Estuary, the Array’s 175 turbines can generate enough energy to power nearly half a million UK homes, reducing CO2 emissions by more than 900,000 tons annually.

Now capable of producing 630MW of electricity, the London Array was supposed to be expanded by another 370MW. Phase 2 of the project has stalled due to environmental, logistical and financial issues, states the project’s website.

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The London Array under construction. Photo credit: Go Green

What’s In Store for New York?

The Long Island – New York City wind project is intended to help New York State reach its goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

Wind power is steadily becoming more commercially viable. Tracey Moriarty, a BOEM spokeswoman, told NYER earlier this year that other potential wind farm developers have expressed interest in the site off the Rockaways.

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Area off the Rockaway coast under federal review as a possible site for the installation of up to 194 wind turbines. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Developers of the Long Island – New York City project plan to construct 194 wind turbines off the coast. What sorts of impacts could such a project have?

One possible impact is visual. During the BOEM open houses in June, panoramic photographs and short videos will be shown that simulate the New York wind power project under various weather conditions and times of day and night. The simulations were generated from a series of key observation points, says BOEM.

Public feedback regarding how the wind farm could impact the viewshed for coastal areas of New York and New Jersey will be used by BOEM as it finalizes the exact area of the ocean to be developed.

The public can stop in at any time during the BOEM open houses:

Monday, June 8 from 6 – 8 pm
Floyd Bennett Field
50 Aviation Road
Brooklyn, NY 11234

Tuesday, June 9 from 6 – 8 pm
Watch Hill Ferry Terminal
150 West Avenue
Patchogue, NY 11772

Wednesday, June 10 from 6 – 8 pm
Sandy Hook Chapel
35 Hartshorne Drive
Highlands, NJ 07732

Thursday, June 11 from 6 – 8 pm
Freeport Recreation Center
130 East Merrick Road
Freeport, NY 11520

The Long Island – New York City wind project: a four-step process.

The New York wind farm is at the beginning of a lengthy public review process.

First, BOEM must conduct a preliminary environmental review of the potential impacts of a wind farm in the proposed ocean site. The public will be able to submit comments as part of the review.

Second, a lease to develop the wind farm in federal waters is issued to the winner of a competitive auction process.

Third, a site assessment plan is developed, which involves the collection of more information (e.g., wind speed data, biological data) about the area proposed for development.

And finally, the wind farm’s developer submits a construction and operations plan. BOEM must then carry out a full environmental review of the project.

Port Ambrose Decision Delayed, Feds “Stop the Clock”

The application for Port Ambrose, a deepwater port and gas pipeline off the coast of Long Island, has been delayed by federal agencies.

In a letter posted March 24, the Coast Guard and the federal Maritime Administration “stopped the clock” in evaluating the plan, noting that they lacked the information necessary to complete development of the final Environmental Impact Statement.

The agencies cited four reasons for their delay:

  1. During the comment period, more than 10,000 public comments were received; more time is required to review and respond to this input.
  2. This month, the Army Corps of Engineers began requiring pipelines to be buried 15 feet deep instead of 7 feet, a new rule that will have to be analyzed for the final environmental impact report.
  3. The Environmental Protection Agency must still review the project’s conformity to the Clean Air Act.
  4. “Financial responsibility data” from Liberty Natural Gas is due to on March 30th, and regulators would like time to analyze this information.

The letter did not specify how long the delay could last. This is the second timeline suspension since Liberty’s proposal was published in June 2013.

Bi-Partisan Opposition

The Port Ambrose project would pump liquified natural gas from 900-foot ships through 26-miles of sub-ocean pipeline into the existing natural gas system to serve Long Island.

The port has faced massive public and governmental opposition, especially in recent months. In New York, 52 bi-partisan legislators signed a letter against the proposed plan, urging a veto. In New Jersey, a resolution against the facility has been introduced in both the Senate and Assembly.

On April 1, the New York City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection and the Committee on Waterfronts will hold a hearing on Resolution #549, which calls on Governor Cuomo to veto Port Ambrose. Under federal law, a veto from either Cuomo or Christie will kill the plan.

Statements Released

Clean Ocean Action, a broad-based coalition of 125 groups, has been a leader in the fight against Port Ambrose. Upon learning of the federal delay, Executive Director Cindy Zipf released the following statement:

“The power of the people, over 60,000 and growing have spoken in strong opposition and overwhelmed the process for the first time. Port Ambrose LNG facility is treading water for now, but the ship isn’t sunk yet. We need all hands on deck and to keep up the pressure. Resolutions need to be passed, petitions signed urging both Governors to veto this dangerous proposal when the application is final. It is clear we have Liberty Natural Gas on the run, but the fight is not over and we will continue to fight until the ship has officially sunk.”

Liberty’s chief executive, Roger Whelan, said stopping the clock is a normal part of the process. “We support the Coast Guard’s efforts to conduct an extensive and thorough federal review and are confident the results will show the Port Ambrose project will have minimal impact on the environment,” he said in a statement.

Debate Swirls Over Port Ambrose Project Slated for Long Island Waters

Key Points:

  • Port Ambrose, a deepwater natural gas facility, is being proposed twenty miles off the coast of Long Island and approximately 22 miles from the Rockaway peninsula.
  • The port would import gas in order to relieve supply bottlenecks and reduce fuel prices for Long Island residents and businesses.
  • Opponents are concerned that the facility may preclude the development of an offshore wind farm slated for the same location.
  • There is also fear that Port Ambrose may pose a safety and environmental risk to coastal communities and aquatic habitat in New York and New Jersey.
  • Public comments on the proposal are being accepted until March 16; Governors Cuomo and Christie both have the power to veto.

 


Twenty miles off the coast of Long Island, 103 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, a battle is brewing—but it’s not just about a natural gas facility being proposed for the site.

In fact, that project has quickly become a proxy for a much larger debate—one that encompasses renewable energy, homeland security, fossil fuels, and the future of New York’s energy resources.

On the sandy, flat bottom of New York Bight, energy company Liberty Natural Gas hopes to build the Port Ambrose Deepwater Project, an underwater system that would transfer imported liquid natural gas (LNG) from ship to pipeline, and eventually to customers throughout Long Island.

Liberty claims that the $600-million project is a necessary addition to the energy infrastructure of the Northeast that would ease supply woes, lower energy costs, and generate significant federal and state tax revenue.

But a wide range of opponents are calling foul on Port Ambrose—in fact, the movement has united anti-fracking activists, Rockaway residents, and even the Republican majority leader of the State Senate. And while concerns vary, most agree that the project would deepen the region’s dependence on fossil fuels and could prevent efforts to construct a major wind farm in the same location.

Public comments on the project are being accepted through March 16th. The project may be vetoed by either Governor Cuomo or Governor Christie.

From Vessel to Buoy to Pipeline

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A LNG vessel unloads at Everett Port, off the coast of Boston. Photo credit: Bob O’Connor

While the debate around Port Ambrose is high-profile, the actual facility would be anything but; aside from the regular presence of large shipping vessels carrying liquefied natural gas to the site, all of the associated infrastructure would be fixed beneath the ocean.

According to Liberty, Port Ambrose has three components:

  1. Newly-built, 900-foot ships that would carry LNG;
  2. A newly-constructed, 26-mile subsea pipeline; and
  3. A buoy system that rests on the ocean floor when not in use.

When a ship arrives at Port Ambrose for a delivery, the 33-foot-tall undersea buoy would rise up and connect to the hull of the ship. The liquid natural gas would be gasified onboard the vessel, and then flow through through the buoy and pipeline into the existing Transco pipeline (operated by Williams Company). The entire unloading process could take as little as five days, or as many as 15.

From there, the natural gas would move into homes and power plants from Long Beach eastward. Liberty estimates that the fuel from each ship could power 1.5 million homes. This short video shows an animated version of the process:

If approved, Port Ambrose would be able to accept LNG year-round, but the company anticipates that deliveries would primarily occur during winter and summer months—meaning for half the year, the port would go unused.

Breaking a Bottleneck

Port Ambrose plans to import natural gas from Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean’s largest oil and natural gas producer. Liberty has stated that the increased supply of natural gas would relieve “bottlenecks” and “deliver a new supply of competitively priced gas directly into the downstate New York market, helping to moderate fuel prices in the area.”

But is there a bottleneck? While the supply of domestically-produced natural gas in the United States is increasing (due mostly to shale gas production), the U.S. Energy Information Administration calls New York a “pipeline-constrained” market. This means that pipeline infrastructure in the region is insufficient to meet demand for natural gas, especially during winter months. This can cause price surges on gas and electricity bills, as many power plants are now transitioning from coal to natural gas.

However, as NYER has reported previously, energy companies are rapidly filling this gap (see: Constitution Pipeline, Algonquin Pipeline, and Rockaway Pipeline). In fact the EIA noted just last week that “despite similar cold weather and high consumption [in 2014], the price increases have not been as severe” this winter—thanks in large part to increased pipeline access.

National Grid, the utility company that supplies natural gas to homes and businesses on Long Island, declined to comment on price spikes or whether Port Ambrose might mitigate them, stating only that “at the present time, we have not evaluated this particular project, and as a result, do not have an expressed opinion on this proposal.”

A Growing Coalition

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Councilman Donovan Richards speaks before a public hearing on Port Ambrose. Photo credit: Minister Erik McGregor.

Not everyone agrees that New York needs a project like Port Ambrose. Relieved of duty now that Cuomo has banned fracking, the state’s vocal anti-fracking activists, many under the umbrella of Sane Energy, have re-calibrated to challenge fossil fuel development in all forms. The No LNG Coalition, a loose group of more than 100 environmental and activist organizations, has also been coordinating the anti-Port Ambrose movement.

Elected officials—from New York and beyond—have begun issuing statements against the proposed facility, too. Many hail from New York City, coastal New Jersey, and Long Island. New York City and New Jersey will not receive any fuel from Port Ambrose, but, they argue, because of the project’s location, these localities will bear the brunt of any safety or environmental impacts first.

State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), the ranking Democratic member on the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, has called the project “unnecessary and environmentally irresponsible.”

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards recently introduced Resolution 0549, calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the application by Liberty Natural Gas. He was joined by Council Members Margaret Chin, Corey Johnson, Rosie Mendez, and Eric Ulrich. “New York State cannot afford to accommodate the natural gas industry any further considering the immense environmental costs associated with the extraction, production and transportation of natural gas in any state,” Richards told NYER.

Surprising some, pro-fracking Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos also submitted a letter to Governor Cuomo against Port Ambrose, stating, “while the need for increased energy sources are critical to the continued success of our state and local economies, the negative impact of the Port Ambrose LNG proposal on the local community has the very real potentially [sic] of outweighing any perceived benefits.”

Other New York officials that have spoken out against the port include Assemblyman Phillip Goldfelder (D-Ozone Park), Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky (D-Lawrence), and Long Beach City Councilman Anthony Eramo.

A Symbolic Battle Between Old and New

From damage to the environment to terrorist attacks, the list of concerns varies by organization and individual. However, almost all unite over one specific frustration: New York’s continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Bringing this issue front and center is the fact that Port Ambrose is slated to be built in the exact same area proposed as a home for 200 wind turbines. The Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project, which could yield enough electricity to power 245,000 homes, is currently working its way through a multi-year federal review process.

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The two red dots represent the position of the LNG buoys; the dotted line shows the proposed new undersea pipeline. The green triangle represents the leasable area available for a proposed wind farm. The lavender triangles represent shipping lanes–areas that are off limits for development and require extensive buffer zones. Map via Sane Energy.

Liberty maintains that the two projects are compatible, and states that Port Ambrose will only require 2.4 square miles, or 4 percent, of the 127 square miles needed for the wind project.

Opponents disagree outright with this assertion, viewing the competition over the space as a symbolic battle between renewable and fossil fuels. Kit Kennedy, Director of Energy and Transportation for the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote, “New York State and New Jersey have worked hard to recover from the devastating impacts of Superstorm Sandy…” She continued, “It would be the height of irony—and a damaging energy policy—to privilege the construction of a fossil-fuel import facility over a much-needed and long-overdue renewable offshore wind farm.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management seems to share these concerns. In comments submitted to the USCG during its review of the Port Ambrose Deepwater Port Application in 2013, BOEM stated they were “concerned that the proposal to construct a LNG Port in the same area proposed for a large wind facility could result in serious conflicts—or at the minimum, complicating factors—that may impact the overall viability of one or both projects.”

The Export Question

Opponents also suggest that Port Ambrose may eventually become an export facility, sending natural gas produced by fracking in the Marcellus Shale region to higher-priced European markets. They point to projections from the EIA that show the U.S. becoming a net exporter of natural gas by 2020.

While the EIA data refers to the U.S. as a whole and not just the Northeast, the claim is not without some precedent: Both Jordan Cove in Oregon and Dominion Cove Point in Maryland began as LNG import facilities and have since been permitted to export.

Liberty Natural Gas strongly asserts that Port Ambrose will be an import-only project that will not have the technology needed to export gas.

This point is reiterated in the DEIS: “The considerable technical, operational, and environmental differences between import and export operations for natural gas deepwater ports is such that any licensed deepwater port facility that proposed to convert from import to export operations would be required to submit a new license application…and conform to all licensing requirements and regulations in effect at such time of application.”

Roger Whelan, CEO of Liberty Gas, told NYER: “The Port Ambrose project is an import only project—no exports will take place from the facility…The project’s safe, state-of-the-art technology can only be used to regasify and deliver natural gas, not export it… Port Ambrose will never be an export facility.”

Worth the Risk?

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A woman walks on the sand at Long Beach, NY. Photo credit: Amarit Opassetthakul/Creative Commons.

Finally, there is lingering concern that Port Ambrose may pose a risk to coastal communities and aquatic habitat in New York and New Jersey. These risks, opponents say, could come in the form of habitat destruction during construction or operation, or possible terrorist attacks on the facility or LNG vessels.

“It is irresponsible to site a potential terrorism target like this near a residential and commercial hub,” reads the No LNG Coalition website, reiterating concern over intentional or accidental LNG leaks, explosions, or fires. “To put it mildly, this port presents a significant safety and security risk to the people, first responders, commerce, economy, and environment of the Mid Atlantic Ocean.” 

Daniel Mundy Jr., Rockaway resident, battalion chief for the FDNY, and Vice President of Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, told NYER, “There’s nothing in the books written anywhere that would tell you how to handle a situation should one of these types of ships become the terrorist target that’s driven towards shore.”

Liberty Natural Gas notes that as part of the approval process, Port Ambrose has undergone a Risk Assessment by the US Department of Homeland Security, which concluded that the facility poses no danger to the public.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Port Ambrose asserts that the project also constitutes no significant risk to the natural environment. Liberty maintains that they have chosen the project location and route intentionally to avoid critical habitat and fishery areas, and will employ “state of the art plow technology” to install the 22 miles of required subsea pipeline.

The No LNG Coalition contests this point vigorously, claiming that the DEIS does not adequately analyze the risks of the port to threatened and endangered species. Cassandra Ornell, staff scientist for Clean Ocean Action, said that “construction of the pipeline … would involve dredging of the sea floor, destruction of undersea habitats, smothering of bottom-dwelling species and increasing the turbidity of the water.”

The Timeline

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Community members speak at a public hearing for Port Ambrose in Queens, NY. Photo via Facebook.

Currently, the 1,800-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Port Ambrose is going through the public comment phase of the review process. Two public hearings have been held (in Eatontown, NJ and Queens, NY) and comments are now being accepted online until March 16, 2015. After a final EIS is issued this spring, Governors Cuomo and Christie will have 45 days in which to issue a veto—if no action is taken, approval would be presumed.

If you believe Long Island needs a new source of natural gas, or you’re concerned about the effects and risks of Port Ambrose, please consider submitting your comments; you can do so electronically (click Submit a Formal Comment), or via fax or mail.

You can also browse comments that have already been submitted here.

Major Wind Farm Off Rockaway Coast Reviewed by Feds

Almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines may eventually be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula. Described as what could be the largest offshore wind farm in the United States, the Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project is working its way through a multi-year federal review process.

The wind farm could yield as much as 700 MW of energy—enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes.

The project is a collaborative effort between Con Edison, the Long Island Power Authority, and the New York Power Authority. LIPA submitted the proposal to federal regulators in September, 2011.

To date, no wind farms have been constructed in U.S. federal waters (more than three nautical miles off-shore). But several projects are grinding toward execution. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has issued seven commercial leases for offshore wind farms. Several other wind projects are now in the initial review stages.

Plans for wind farms in state-managed coastal waters are also underway. A competitive auction for possible developers of a wind demonstration project off the New Jersey coast is to be held on January 29th, a BOEM spokesperson said.

A Plan for Our Coastal Waters

As the Rockaway wind farm project is being reviewed, a full-scale comprehensive planning effort for the mid-Atlantic coastline is underway. Government regulators and advocacy groups say that the wide array of potentially competing uses in coastal waters—from commercial fishing to energy projects to military exercises to tourism—requires more public direction.

Public meetings regarding how best to manage New York’s coastal waters, and those of neighboring states, are taking place this week in Manhattan’s Javits Center. The meetings are led by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean, a partnership of the state governments of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Could a Rockaway Wind Farm be Commercially Viable?

Developing a major wind farm off the coast of New York City is not seen as far-fetched by the private sector. Tracey Moriarty, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told NYER that other potential wind farm developers have expressed interest in the site off the Rockaways.

“Wind has transitioned from an expensive green energy propped up by legislative support to a bona fide player that competes shoulder-to-shoulder with gas and coal for large generation projects,” noted a March, 2014 article in Business Insider.

“If natural gas prices go up any faster, wind power may even run at a discount to all major generation sources by 2018,” BI concluded.

And the Rockaway wind farm may even be able to out-compete other New York State wind projects.

“An offshore wind facility of this size has distinct advantages over inland options,” says the Con-Ed, LIPA, NYPA collaborative. Off-shore wind power will ultimately be cheaper and more reliable than wind power generated upstate, they say.

“In contrast to land-based wind facilities in remote regions of the state, ocean-based wind power is stronger, more consistently available, and can be situated closer to Long Island and New York City,” the collaborative notes.

“Land-based wind power availability tends to diminish during the hottest part of a summer day, which is precisely the time that Long Island, New York City and Westchester customers use the most electricity.”

A Long Way to Go

The Rockaway wind project is intended to help New York State reach its goal of meeting 45 percent of its electricity needs through improved energy efficiency and renewable sources by 2015. According to BOEM spokeswoman Tracey Moriarty, the project still has a long way to go.

The Rockaway wind farm is at the beginning of a four-step process.

First, BOEM must conduct a preliminary environmental review of the potential impacts of a wind farm in the proposed ocean site. The public will be able to submit comments as part of the review.

Second, a lease to develop the wind farm in federal waters is issued to the winner of a competitive auction process.

Third, a site assessment plan is developed, which involves the collection of more information (e.g., wind speed data, biological data) about the area proposed for development.

And finally, the wind farm’s developer submits a construction and operations plan. BOEM must then carry out a full environmental review of the project.

Moriarty said that BOEM is now completing an “Area ID” (i.e., identifying the Wind Energy Area). This is a necessary step before they can even begin the preliminary environmental review.

Balancing Renewable & Fossil Fuel Energy Projects Off the New York Coast

As the Rockaway wind farm review moves forward, the New York coast is also being examined as a possible site for a liquid natural gas facility. Liberty Natural Gas and West Face Capital have proposed to build a deepwater port in federal waters approximately 19 miles from the New York shore.

The facility, Port Ambrose, would consist of a submerged buoy system, which its developers say would be used to receive natural gas deliveries from the Caribbean.

In a June, 2014 letter to BOEM, Liberty argued that the two projects could co-exist. “Liberty believes that with proper siting and mitigation measures in place, one or more wind farms can be developed in the Call Area near Port Ambrose,” the company wrote.

“The minimum navigation requirements for Port Ambrose will total less than 4% of the 127 square mile Call Area, providing approximately 122 square miles of space for wind farm development,” they maintained.

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.