Plans are in place for a 15 mile natural gas pipeline across Staten Island, Bayonne and Jersey City. But after a pipeline explosion in California, New Jersey officials say promises of safety are not enough.
The explosion and fireball that tore through the suburban San Francisco community of San Bruno last week, killing at least four residents, has heightened fears along New Jersey's Gold Coast, across the river from Manhattan.
Earlier this year, Spectra Energy unveiled plans for a 15 mile natural gas pipeline from a terminus in Linden, across the northern tip of Staten Island and then under part of New York Harbor into Bayonne and Jersey City before tunneling under the Hudson and ending on the west side of Manhattan at 23rd Street.
"It was fear invoking," said Bayonne homeowner Karen Sexton, standing in front of her house and across the street from where Spectra is proposing to put the high pressure, 30 inch main transmission line in her city(near home plate of a city park ball field).
Spectra is promising a "state of the art" pipeline, according to spokeswoman Marylee Hanley while declining to speculate on what went wrong with the PG&E pipeline in California.
But for New Jersey officials, such promises are not enough.
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy said his city was offered a minimum of two million dollars a year as compensation if he would endorse several miles of the main on the projected route to New York.
"No matter how safe you make it, you can't make it fail safe," said Mayor Healy in explaining why he rejected the offer.
Instead, he has had his city file for 'official intervenor' status with the FERC, the Federal Energy Regulator Commission, which has the final say on the routings of pipeline projects.
Healy ticked off the negatives if there were to be a 'San Bruno' accident in his much more crowded city; schools and playgrounds just yards away, the New Jersey Turnpike above certain sections of the proposed pipeline, NJ Transit's busy Hoboken Terminal, and the impact on future development on vacant land next to the right of way.
"It would be nothing short of catastrophic," Healy said.
NJ Transit wrote FERC and raised several serious questions about the pipeline's potential impact on its Hoboken Terminal and long term plans to use the land Spectra wants.
"NJ TRANSIT suggests that FERC consider requiring that the route of the pipeline be moved to a less risk-intensive location, such as into the Hudson River," Steve Santoro, Assistant Executive Director wrote in a letter to the agency.
The New Jersey Turnpike has also raised concerns with the feds, according to spokesman Joe Orlando.
And the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also weighed in with a 12 page letter of concerns with the proposed routing, claiming "The presence of a high-pressure natural gas pipeline in close proximity to several of our facilities presents a potential risk to the PANYNJ core functions should a catastrophic event occur" in its letter to the feds.
But Spectra spokeswoman Hanley cited the growing need for a "reliable and clean burning energy source" in New York and the region in justifying a new pipeline.
As to the tragedy in San Bruno, "We will very closely study information on the cause of the incident in California and if there are any changes to be made we will make those changes" Hanley told NBC New York.
Ironically, a subsidiary of Spectra, Texas Eastern, was responsible for a similar accident in New Jersey more than a decade ago.
On March 23, 1994, a rupture in a Texas Eastern pipeline a few miles away in Edison, N.J. resulted in an explosion and fireball that leveled part of the Durham Woods apartment complex in that city.
No one was killed directly by the blast and blaze, but news accounts from the time said a female resident of the complex died from a heart attack that was ascribed to the accident.
Jersey City OEM Director Greg Kierce feared it could happen again, and called the project "more than a nightmare," noting that electromagnetic waves from a nearby light rail line have already been blamed for helping cause rupture of two water mains next to where the pipeline would go.
The FERC is expected to decide sometime in 2011.
Spectra said if it gets approval, it will create 500 construction jobs for the two years or so it would take to build, starting in 2012.
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