Pipeline denied — for now
There are at least two ways to look at the decision by state officials Wednesday night to temporarily deny the application for a 24-mile natural gas pipeline under New York Harbor.
The first is that the Department of Environmental Conservation made a decision on the merits, telling Williams Transco that it needs to mitigate several potential water quality violations. That’s certainly the narrative offered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who told reporters earlier on Wednesday that he was not involved in the decision and that it would be made by the DEC based on the facts of the case.
The second is that Cuomo was involved in the decision and that the denial serves to take some heat off the controversial issue and put off its ultimate resolution. By this theory, making Williams Transco re-file a modified application buys Cuomo time to announce next week big awards for offshore wind farms off the coast of Long Island without any kind of cloud hanging overhead.
It would be reasonable to surmise that postponing a final decision will test the durability of pipeline opponents’ passion. But dozens of them rallied at City Hall Thursday to celebrate and let it be known that they’re not going away.
“However this unfolds in the future, we will continue to work to block this and similar fossil fuel build-outs in NYS, and to push forward with a variety of renewable strategies,” 350Brooklyn.org’s Sara Gronim emailed The Point just before the rally. “So a victory! But the work never stops...”
Some pipeline foes said the DEC’s denial is a signal to ramp up efforts on increasing renewable energy, reducing energy waste in buildings, and speeding up the deployment of heating systems that can run on renewable energy sources.
National Grid president John Bruckner, whose company services Long Island and New York City and has a contract for the pipeline’s gas, told The Point that the denial means “we will not be processing any new applications from residential customers and gas conversions at this point.”
Both sides seem at the same loggerheads post-decision as they were before.
Bruckner called the DEC denial procedural, saying, “As a result of the process they have additional questions, I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary...I would expect DEC to get the information they need.”
Gronim, on the other hand, wrote, “We doubt that Williams will be able to figure out a way to avoid the threats to health and marine life that the DEC found in the current plan.”
- Michael Dobie @mwdobie
Dear voters ...
Two Hempstead Town board members recently wrote to their constituents to express concern about redevelopment plans at Belmont Park, just as the town is preparing to address one of its key roles in the project.
The letters – from Thomas Muscarella and Bruce Blakeman – critique the project’s size and scope, and point to traffic and other issues. Blakeman sent his letter to more than 14,000 constituents, Muscarella to more than 7,000. Between them, the letters cost more than $5,500 in taxpayer money.
Muscarella, who represents a district that includes Belmont Park itself, is new to the town board – appointed last month to replace Edward Ambrosino. Blakeman, who represents part of Elmont, along with nearby communities like Floral Park and Franklin Square, has served on the board since 2015.
Both Blakeman and Muscarella are up for reelection in November.
Blakeman hadn’t previously provided public comment on the Belmont project, either at public meetings or via written response, sources with knowledge told The Point. But while the veteran politician told The Point that his primary concern is traffic, his letter outlines other significant worries.
“The environmental dangers, crime and the economic deterioration in both our residential and business districts could be detrimental to our suburban way of life,” Blakeman wrote.
Muscarella used the same phrase, expressing concerns about “the overwhelmingly negative impacts that the plan will place on our suburban way of life.”
Blakeman, who said he’d keep an “open mind,” told The Point that he hoped the New York Islanders would choose to stay at Nassau Coliseum instead of going to Belmont.
“I don’t think this is a good project for the community,” Blakeman said. “It may be a good project for the region but I represent my district, and I have to represent my district first.”
Sources told The Point that Blakeman talked with representatives from Elmont Against the Megamall, an opposition group, and from New York Arena Partners, the developer, before writing his letter.
The letters come as town officials are working on an agreement to provide New York Arena Partners with access to Elmont Road Park, a local park that the developers have agreed to improve as part of the community benefits they’ll provide. Because Belmont Park is state land, approving a park access agreement is one of the few specific ways Hempstead has a say in the redevelopment effort.
Sources said the proposed access agreement now focuses not only on Elmont Road Park, which is in Blakeman’s district, but it also has expanded to include Hendrickson Avenue Park, which is in Muscarella’s district. The agreement prioritizes safety and security upgrades, along with a splash pad at Elmont Road Park, sources said. Previously, residents also had asked for ballfields, playgrounds and other improvements, and Empire State Development officials have said all options are on the table.
A vote on a park access agreement could come as soon as next Tuesday.
- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Love and concern
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In the running
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who jumped into the 2020 presidential race Thursday morning, is finally getting the national stage he has often craved. What’s his pitch to the big audience? He put it right into the opening line of his launch video: “There's plenty of money in this world. There's plenty of money in this country. It's just in the wrong hands."
It’s a neat line that underscores de Blasio’s focus on income inequality, which he’s pitched for years.
An early test run for this line on the local stage came at Manhattan’s Symphony Space in January, when de Blasio was delivering his 2019 State of the City address.
“There’s plenty of money in this city, it’s just in the wrong hands,” he preached.
If the line tells you everything that de Blasio wants you to know about his aims, then the January address more generally might say everything you need to know about his campaign, for better or worse.
The speech highlighted his efforts on behalf of working people, from universal pre-K to paid sick leave. But it also showed the limits of his rhetoric when the problems are entrenched. One of the key city vehicles for helping the economically disadvantaged is the New York City Housing Authority, a beleaguered agency that the mayor named just once. Homelessness also merited just a brief mention.
And the speech’s policies about transit hint at some of the arguments de Blasio will surely face in the next months. His announcements about clearing the way for buses on city streets were applauded mightily by advocates, but also were seen as coming a little late in the game, five years into his mayoralty. This after spending time amplifying flashy and (for now) niche modes of transit like ferries, whereas buses are the workhorses often serving the less well-off he says he tries to aid.
Welcome to being a big city mayor looking to break onto the national stage. Everyone back home has got an opinion. And the job’s more complicated than a good slogan.
- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano