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NJ deals another setback to new gas pipeline to LI, NYC

A view of Raritan Bay from Middletown, N.J.,

A view of Raritan Bay from Middletown, N.J., on Monday. New Jersey environmental officials rejected a planned gas pipeline saying it could adversely impact water quality within the New Jersey waters of the bay. Photo Credit: AP/Wayne Parry

In its second major setback in a month, National Grid and Williams Co.’s plan for a substantial new gas pipeline to Long Island and New York City was denied two key permits by New Jersey regulators Wednesday.

The state's denial, which allows the developer to update and resubmit its applications, could further delay and potentially kill a major new pipeline to the region, people on both sides of the issue say.

National Grid, claiming it faces a looming gas shortage, has already stopped processing new applications for firm (meaning uninterrupted year-round service) natural gas hookups on Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens, pending a final review by New York. The state rejected a water quality permit for the pipeline last month. The New Jersey denial keeps that no-processing status in place, the company said.

In a statement announcing the rejection, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection found that Williams' proposed dredging for the pipeline “could adversely impact surface water quality within New Jersey waters of the Raritan Bay.” The department said Williams must show steps it would take to minimize disruption to the bay and ensure compliance with water-quality standards.

Williams, in a statement, said it planned to quickly refile its application.

“We are currently assessing the discrete technical issues raised” by New Jersey regulators, Williams spokesman Christopher Stockton said in a statement. “We believe that we can be responsive to the issues raised by the agency and intend to resubmit the application to the agency in a timely manner to maintain the customer’s in-service date requirement.”

The pipeline would bring an additional 400 million cubic feet of gas per day to Long Island and the metropolitan region, addressing what National Grid said was a critical shortage of supply. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline May 3. The 24-mile gas project would encompass about 18 miles of pipeline under New York Bay and connect with existing infrastructure at sea, beyond the Rockaways.

New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation expressed similar environmental concerns in rejecting Williams’ water quality permit last month, but also allowed the company to resubmit its application with updates. The company has already done so.

In its rejection letter last month, New York’s DEC noted the project, called the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, or NESE, “would result in significant water-quality impacts from the re-suspension of sediments and other contaminants, including mercury and copper.” DEC said it would also “cause impacts to habitats due to the disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources.”

Stockton said, "We strongly believe the discrete technical issues raised" by the New York DEC "were addressed in our previous application and, in this application we have provided additional information showing that these issues have been addressed."

National Grid, in a statement following New Jersey's rejection, said it remained “cautiously optimistic that the project will proceed on schedule and be in service for Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island customers by the winter” of 2020-2021. 

Long Island business groups expressed concern the denial would harm the region’s economic viability.

Kyle Strober, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a developer group that backs the pipeline, said New Jersey’s decision “will choke Long Island's future economic viability.”

“Our region is on the cusp of an economic development revolution,” Strober said. “It's unfathomable that Long Island families will no longer be able to convert their home from oil to gas."

Added Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association: “New Jersey’s action is unfortunate and thus we encourage both states to work together to get their concerns addressed by the applicant and simultaneously approve this project in the very near future to avoid negative economic impacts to our region.”

Opponents, chiefly in the environmental community, which argues that there is no actual gas shortage, declared another tentative victory Thursday, but noted the fight wasn't over.

“This victory affirms that dangerous gas pipelines have no place in our communities,” said Kimberly Ong, senior attorney for environmental watchdog group, the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Instead of locking in a fossil-fueled future that threatens our waters and endangers marine life, New Jersey is rightly driving forward a local clean energy economy. Rest assured — we will use every tool in the kit to stop this reckless project from ever being built.”

With AP

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