The crowd at the Cortlandt Manor community center Monday night was reminiscent of the audience of a wedding that neither side approves of – two very different families only separated by the aisle down the middle.
On one side were residents opposed to the planned expansion of a natural gas pipeline that runs near nuclear power plant Indian Point – many of them wearing red T-shirts with white lettering on their backs that said “Our lives are on the line.” On the other side were loud, sign-waving union members with orange T-shirts and blue lettering. On their backs were the words “Our jobs are on the line.”
Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina, a Republican, was among a procession of elected officials who stepped to the podium to discuss the pipeline. Catalina said he took offense to the notion that opposing the expansion meant critics were “anti-union.”
“We are for unions, we are for jobs, we are for projects but we are also for safety,” he said. At the end of Catalina’s comments, as was the case for the entire evening, the opposition and union groups jockeyed for the loudest response. Applause, cheering and whistles by the anti-expansion group met with boos, jeers and hisses from the union members.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, heard comments from members of the public on the environmental impacts of the planned expansion of the Algonquin Gas Transmission line, which runs through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Critical residents say the environmental analysis isn’t comprehensive enough and comes with a slew of safety concerns. Labor groups say the expansion will bring as many as 300 part-time construction jobs to the region.
Several hundred people attended the hearing, held on a basketball court in the community center. Outside of the center prior to the hearing, opposition and labor groups held dueling picketing rallies.
Texas-based Spectra Energy Partners L.P. is looking to rebuild and expand the Algonquin pipeline, which has run through Rockland, Westchester and Putnam counties since 1953. The existing pipes have a 26-inch diameter, but the company wants to replace the pipes with 42-inch diameter pipes that will use a quarter more pressure to transport natural gas through the region.
Tom Rily, a Cortlandt Manor resident and member of Laborers International Union of North America Local 60, said union members knew the project was necessary from working on and repairing the existing pipeline.
“We know what a 50-year-old pipe looks like,” he said. “It’s either got to be done now or 10 years from now.”
The current pipe predates the construction of Indian Point in Buchanan in the 1950s, and opposition groups said the standards of safety have since changed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates nuclear power plants in the country, is expected to ask Indian Point’s owner to update its safety analyses if the pipeline expansion is approved. The opposition groups say the NRC should weigh in on the safety concerns before FERC approves the expansion.
The existing pipeline runs 1,127 miles and carries 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas mined out of the Marcellus Shale per day. The proposed expansion would build 20.1 miles of new pipeline in Connecticut and New York, including a 0.7-mile crossing of the Hudson River in Rockland County. New compressor stations would also be built (current stations exist in Stony Point and Southeast).
Marylee Hanley, Spectra’s director of stakeholder outreach, said in a phone interview that the project would utilize existing rights of way and company-owned land while addressing a power need in the New England region by increasing the amount of gas the pipeline pumps by 13 percent. “The (Algonquin) project is the most immediate solution for the region and would have an immediate impact on prices,” she said.
The pipeline would run near schools in the Hendrick Hudson school district in the hamlet of Verplanck. Superintendent Joseph E. Hochreiter said FERC should review alternate routes for the pipeline. He noted that the pipeline was one of several energy projects planned for the area – the recently approved energy lines that will run from Canada to New York City being the latest.
“We ask how much more can one small community accommodate?” the superintendent said.