Last Wednesday, environmental activists joined local leaders in a virtual rally to condemn the utility company for restarting work on the Metropolitan Reliability Infrastructure (MRI) pipeline despite New York’s ongoing “Stay At Home” executive order.
The 6.8-mile pipeline, which runs from Brownsville to north Brooklyn, has been in the works since 2017, and is anticipated to be completed in 2021. According to reports, the project to install 14,000 feet of underground pipes is already 80 percent complete.
Construction halted in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but resumed on May 18.
Lee Ziesche, community engagement coordinator with the Sane Energy Project, said during the virtual conference that opponents of the pipeline were sending a letter to National Grid, signed by 479 people, calling for an end to the project.
“The movement against this pipeline is growing,” Ziesche said. “We are not going to let this pipeline sneak through in the shadows while our communities are suffering.”
In the letter, ratepayers and local groups argued that the project endangers workers and the community, highlighting the 150 years of “environmental devastation” that has already impacted north Brooklyn. The pipeline would supply fracked gas from Pennsylvania.
They also noted that nearly 2,000 residents have filed complaints with the Public Service Commission against the pipeline. Advocates have hosted weekly rallies against the project for several months before the pandemic began.
“We demand you keep our community safe and not only allow workers to be paid to stay at home during this pandemic, but work to shut down this fracked gas pipeline for good,” the letter reads, “and help to transition our workforce to a renewable, equitable and efficient future.”
Leslie Velazquez from the Williamsburg organization El Puente said not only was the community not consulted on the project, residents were “blatantly ignored.”
“This project does nothing to service this community here,” she said. “It’s only for National Grid’s profit.”
Velazquez said the pipeline construction has already impacted local businesses. El Puente, a community partner with the Moore Street Market in East Williamsburg, noted that the head of the merchants association lost half of his business revenue in the three months the utility was working in front of the market.
Advocates also pointed out that the $185 million needed to complete the project will be paid for through rate hikes, which residents cannot afford.
“Many of our community members are already overburdened by the cost of those utilities,” Velazquez said. “For the health, safety and livelihood of our communities, we have to say no to this pipeline.”
Jessica Azulay, executive director of the Alliance for a Green Economy, said at the virtual rally that fracked gas is “dangerous and destructive.” She called on advocates to continue protesting the project “until they are made to stop.”
“It’s up to us to resist every inch of every pipe they try to put into the ground,” she said.
Local elected officials also criticized the project’s continued construction. Comptroller Scott Stringer said the fracked gas pipeline would be outdated “the day it gets built.”
“The battle in Brooklyn is just beginning,” he said.
State Senator Julia Salazar called it “absolutely shameful” that National Grid would resume construction during a public health crisis. She said fossil fuel infrastructure is “clearly linked” to higher asthma rates in communities.
“This pipeline is deadly,” Salazar said.
In response to the virtual rally, National Grid spokesperson Karen Young noted that the project supports National Grid’s existing system of service lines that deliver heat and energy to customers.
As a regulated utility in the state, the company’s operations are publicly vetted by a regulatory approval process designed to protect customers and ensure projects are necessary, she said.
“The Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project is one of several system integrity projects which do not bring new gas supply to New York,” Young said in a statement. “They are about moving existing gas more efficiently around the system for existing customers.”