A public meeting Wednesday night between representatives of Spectra Energy, the company behind the proposal for a gas pipeline to run through Bayonne and downtown Jersey City, and representatives for the city turned into an information session for opponents to the project after Spectra’s representatives pulled out of the meeting at the last minute.
The reason given by Spectra for not attending the meeting, sponsored by the Downtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations and held at PS 37/The Cordero School, was that they were making last-minute changes to their filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency that has to approve the pipeline.
The Commission approved 100 percent of all pipeline projects it reviewed in 2009.
Specific arguments against the pipeline were repeated, with seemingly universal opposition to the project among elected officials and residents. Much of the meeting focused on strategies to stop it.
San Bruno explosion cited
Kierce gave a PowerPoint presentation and speech about the September explosion of a gas pipeline underneath San Bruno, Calif. that killed eight people, severely injured dozens, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of property damage.
Kierce said audio tapes of the first firefighters to arrive on the scene described the explosion and fire as so powerful they thought it was the result of “anything from an earthquake to a 747 crash.”
One difficulty they had fighting the enormous fire was that the powerful explosion disabled the city’s entire water system, forcing firefighters to pump water from two to three miles away. Kierce said if a similar explosion occurred in Jersey City, losing the water system was extremely likely, due to Jersey City’s “aging infrastructure.”
Kierce noted that the pipe which experienced “catastrophic failure” in San Bruno was the exact same type and diameter as the one which Spectra proposes to put underneath Jersey City.
He also noted that while San Bruno has a population of 40,000 spread over a much larger geographic area than Jersey City, Jersey City has 240,000 residents in a much smaller area, meaning a similar explosion would have much more devastating effects.
Mayor Healy spoke briefly, saying the pipeline was “good for the folks in Manhattan, but very bad for us here in Jersey City.” The pipeline would deliver natural gas to a Con Edison plant for Manhattan.
He said Spectra offered to pay the city $2 million a year for the first 20 years of the pipeline, and he “would love to have two million a year, but not at this cost, not at this risk,” and anyway, $2 million a year “will pale in comparison” to the tax revenue that could be made from proposed development of areas on the proposed route of the pipeline, such as Newport/Pavonia.
Healy also noted Jersey City’s status as “Wall Street West,” home of the back office operations of many major financial firms based across the Hudson River in Manhattan. He said during water main breaks or power outages, he gets calls from the Federal Department of the Treasury saying that “the markets are in jeopardy,” so a gas pipeline explosion would have major ripple effects on financial markets worldwide.
Getting Gov. Christie involved
Healy stressed the need to get Gov. Christopher Christie enlisted in the anti-pipeline cause, saying that “if he [Christie] joined this effort he could be very influential.” In fact, the major initiative of the No Gas Pipeline organization is to encourage people to contact Christie’s office and demand that he seek “Intervenor” standing with FERC. Only Intervenors have the legal standing to challenge FERC’s rulings in federal court.
Mayor Healy and No Gas Pipeline are both planning to seek Intervenor status regarding the pipeline, and Mayor Healy has written Christie a letter encouraging him to do so. Healy noted that Christie has already applied for Intervenor status to oppose a similar pipeline proposal near Perth Amboy.
As if to demonstrate the broad opposition of Jersey City’s government to the pipeline, Healy jokingly asked Councilman Steven Fulop, “Hey Steve, how many things do we agree on?”
Fulop replied, “Not many, but we do agree on this.”
Fulop said there were “not many new faces here” and said this was evidence “that we [the anti-pipeline movement] need to increase our reach.”
Dale Hardman and Stephen Musgrave of No Gas Pipeline both spoke about the economic impact of the proposal. Spectra commissioned a study by the Rutgers School of Business claiming that the pipeline would generate $78 million in tax revenue for the city and create 1,437 jobs over 20 years, a study which Mayor Healy has said grossly overestimates the benefits of the pipeline. Meanwhile, the same business school has also done a study of the economic impact of commercial and residential development of all of the areas along the proposed pipeline route and found that it could generate as much as $1.4 billion in tax revenue and 13,000 jobs over the same time period.
The LeFrak Organization, which planned the massive development in the northern Newport area along the propose pipeline route, has already come out against the pipeline.
The next stage of the process is when Spectra applies for formal approval of the pipeline project with FERC, which it is expected to do this month. Musgrave noted that FERC approved 100 percent of all pipeline projects it reviewed in 2009, and attributed this to the fact that there is a “revolving door” between gas industry lobbyists and the board of FERC.
If FERC does approve the pipeline, the only recourse is for those who have Intervenor standing to sue to have the ruling overturned in Federal Court.
Extensive information about the proposed pipeline, FERC, the San Bruno pipeline explosion etc can be found at www.nogaspipeline.org.
Eric Deamer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.