Now that Spectra Energy has broken ground for its controversial natural gas pipeline project in Bayonne, a Spectra spokeswoman said the company will break ground in Jersey City sometime this month.
Jersey City has appealed the federal ruling that approved construction of the pipeline in May and is gearing up for a court battle to block it from running through the city.
The city has also said they would try to delay construction by refusing to grant local permits needed for the project to begin. But if recent correspondence between an attorney for Spectra and the city is any indication, the federal decision may supersede local permits.
The proposed pipeline is set to include 19.8 miles of new and replacement pipes, six new pump stations, and other related modifications. It will run through Linden, Jersey City, and Bayonne.
‘We anticipate construction to start [in Jersey City] during the month of August.’ – Marylee Hanley
The pipeline would cross the Hudson River into New York to connect the company’s existing pipeline to Manhattan and Staten Island, supplying customers of Con Edison.
Spectra has also said that it will supply energy to power facilities operated by Bayonne Plant Holding and boilers at the International Matex Tank Terminals, also in Bayonne.
Why the opposition?
Jersey City activists and officials have argued that a natural gas explosion could cause mass casualties and significantly damage important transportation infrastructure. Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy has also noted that the potential hazards could hurt future commercial and residential development.
Spectra – which has countered that the city’s fears are exaggerated and not realistic – is scheduled to have the pipeline built and in operation for ConEd by November 2013.
No specific date for a Jersey City groundbreaking had been set by press time, according to Spectra spokeswoman Marylee Hanley. But she said that updates regarding construction will be posted regularly at www.yesgaspipeline.org, a pro-Spectra, union-endorsed web site that was set up last year as a counterweight to the Jersey City-based group No Gas Pipeline.
‘Federal approval supersedes local regulation’
Now, the city is finding out that their plan to deny local permits may not stop the pipeline from being built.
In a correspondence dated July 25 and addressed to Jersey City Assistant Construction Official Michael Razzoli, Spectra attorney Michael Ash writes that “federal approval of the project supersedes local regulation.”
The letter apparently came after Spectra said it would park temporary construction trailers at 305 Coles St.
Ash points out to Razzoli that, “On June 28, 2012, the United States District Court for the District on New Jersey issued orders of taking and orders for preliminary injunction because the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority refused to negotiate for pipeline easements or street opening permits. Then on June 29 and on July 19, FERC issued letter orders granting notices to proceed with construction at specific initial construction areas, including areas in…Jersey City.”
Ash – an attorney with the Teaneck-based law firm of DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole – argued that the District Court orders and FERC permits authorize Spectra to go ahead and break ground for the pipeline in Jersey City.
These orders, Ash writes, authorize Spectra to “immediately possess and have access [to] certain parcels of land in Jersey City and Jersey City streets.”
City: Still waiting for FERC
In the meantime, city officials are in limbo while they await word from FERC regarding their appeal.
City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said, “The agency communicated to the city that it will need more time to consider [our] arguments. Until FERC finalizes its decision on the pipeline, [we] cannot act. However, if FERC does not reverse its initial decision, as the mayor has previously stated, the city will file suit in federal district court.”
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Will pipeline plow through animal shelter?
As Spectra gears up to build its natural gas pipeline, some Jersey City property owners that had previously been unaware of the pipeline route are now being notified that their land may be affected..
The Jersey City-based Liberty Humane Society animal shelter said last week that they may lose 40 percent of their land due to construction of the pipeline, after they received an “Order of Taking” for the land.
They posted an online petition last weekend stating: “Spectra Energy has federal approval to run a natural gas pipeline straight through land occupied by Liberty Humane Society…Pipeline construction would not only render more than half of Liberty Humane’s land useless, it would have a disastrous effect on animal health, cripple LHS’s ability to comply with state law, and render impossible the shelter’s capacity to expand.”
The shelter, created by animal volunteers, sits on land near Liberty State Park and across the street from the Liberty Science Center. Their land is owned by the city and the shelter is leasing it. The LHS is the only animal shelter in Jersey City.
The facility has a small plot of land in the back that they use to walk their dogs so that the animals get exercise.
“We are actively seeking pro bono representation,” said shelter Director of Development Irene Borngraeber. “We just got served the eminent domain order last month and our response [to the court] is now overdue. [The federal government] never responded in court after our initial injunction was filed by the city. Things are really in limbo with this pending court case.”
Spectra said on Thursday, “This week, representatives of Spectra Energy met with the Liberty Humane Society to review the planned pipeline construction and discuss the concerns they have raised regarding the operation of their facilities as they relate to our planned construction. The pipeline construction will not interfere with existing LHS facilities. We plan to continue to work directly with LHS throughout the duration of the project to coordinate our activities to ensure that there is no interference with their day-to-day activities, and to evaluate how the pipeline may be constructed to mitigate interference with any of LHS’ future plans."
When contacted for a response, Borngraeber said she couldn’t comment on the meeting with Spectra, but that LHS is looking for pro bono help in dealing with the legal issue (see related story at left). – Caren Matzner