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Lynbrook business owners decry moratorium on natural gas hookups

Lynbrook Village officials on Wednesday said a moratorium on new gas hookups by National Grid is hurting the revitalization of the downtown business district. (Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington)

National Grid’s moratorium on natural gas hookups has stalled revitalizations in Lynbrook Village and in communities across the region, officials said at a rally Wednesday as they called on state leaders and the company to end the logjam tied to a rejected supply pipeline.

Business owners and landlords who lease space from the MTA at the intersection of Stauderman and Atlantic avenues in Lynbrook's shopping district said they’ve been told by National Grid they cannot get gas service to heat their buildings or to expand cooking operations because New York State has rejected a $1 billion, 24-mile pipeline called the Northeast Supply Enhancement project.

“The economic vitality of the Village of Lynbrook and our business district are being held hostage by the feud over the gas pipeline,” said Jeff Greenfield, vice president of the Lynbrook Chamber of Commerce and a former LIPA trustee, who operates an insurance business in the village.

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit smart-growth advocacy group, said some 40 business districts throughout Nassau and Suffolk and more than 60 development projects are being held up by the moratorium that began after the state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected permits for developer Williams Co. to build the pipeline in New York waterways. New Jersey also has rejected applications for needed permits. Williams has resubmitted its applications, and the DEC has said it will render a decision by May 17, 2020.

National Grid, whose officials didn't attend the rally, in a statement said, "We still remain cautiously optimistic that NESE [pipeline] will be approved, and that we’ll soon be able to resume processing requests for new gas service."

Business owners in Lynbrook said they'd like to see that sooner than later.

“We can’t function without heat,” said Jessica Lambert, who recently opened Just Dream Events beneath the Long Island Rail Road tracks in the district. The business rents its hall for Sweet 16 parties, baby showers and weddings. “I missed the application deadline by three days.”

Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach said he takes National Grid at its word that the moratorium is based on a critical shortage of natural gas that only the new pipeline will relieve. “Who am I not to believe them?” he said.

Members of groups opposed to the pipeline say the company created the supply crisis to spur political support for a line that will tie the region to fossil fuels for another 20 years. Dozens of them held a rally in front of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Manhattan office Wednesday, chanting, "Williams pipeline's got to go."

The state Department of Public Service has undertaken an “in depth, detailed, ongoing review of New York’s gas infrastructure needs, and it is taking National Grid’s plans into account,” said DPS spokesman James Denn. He said that, in any case, “we will continue to dramatically improve energy efficiency, scale demand response programs and expedite an orderly transition to clean energy.”

Denn said state agencies would “stand ready to work with customers to make sure every building will have access to safe, affordable, reliable, and sustainable heat under any circumstance.”

Beach said he’s all for “saving the planet” by transitioning to green energy, but in the interim, “we need the gas … We have to survive. We’re getting destroyed.”

Developer and landlord Rob Schwartzah, who has leased and renovated seven properties from the MTA in the shadow of the LIRR overpass, called the moratorium “a hardship on everybody.” Schwartzah said five of his seven storefronts have no gas, and “once it gets cold, I don’t know what we’re going to do.” He said he’s considering installing electric heaters in the interim, a higher-cost heating method.

Asked what the village will do if the state ultimately rejects permits for the pipeline, Beach suggested options would be limited. “We’ll probably hold another rally,” he said.

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