HARLEM — Plans to upgrade a West Harlem natural gas meter station to accomodate a high-volume pipeline are sparking concerns from neighbors who fear the line could be a safety hazard in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The station, located along the Hudson River at 134th Street, is part of the 10,200 mile-long Transco pipeline network which brings natural gas from South Texas to New York City. The station serves as a transmission point where gas is transferred to regional providers such as Con Ed, and has been in place for the past 51 years.
Proponents say the changes to higher-volume are needed to supply the additional gas required to supply taller buildings, manufacturing facilities and buildings that want to switch from oil to gas, particularly in light of the rezoning of West Harlem currently underway.
"This is going to allow more gas to flow through that meter station. Right now it's a bottleneck. Modern piping will allow Con Ed to keep up with their gas needs," said Chris Stockton, a spokesman for Williams, an energy supplier which runs the station. He added that the changes will make the new station state-of-the art, more aesthetically pleasing and less noisy.
The project to convert the station is expected to commence this spring and be finished by the winter — and will involve the removal of the entire existing meter station and the construction of a modern facility that will allow the facility to increase the volume of gas to the area.
But critics say they're concerned about the safety of the new station — and the fact that it will be monitored remotely, from Texas and Hackensack, NJ.
"If something occurs, another Hurricane Sandy, the station is right on the water. Will they have people there will they come from Texas and New Jersey," said Councilman Robert Jackson, who expressed concerns along with members of Community Board 9.
"We don't have an objection to it being built but there are questions about who monitors it after it is built. What if there is an explosion. All these issues and concerns have to be flushed out for the safety of people," said Jackson.
But reps for Williams said the company has mutiple safety measures that clean the pipes and monitor for blockages or erosion. The torpedo shape devices can measure pipe thickness and are not currently installed.
The pipes will also have a protective system that prevents the corrosion of the pipe by sending an electric current through the metal.
And Williams will have field inspectors available and patrols to monitor the line, which will be watched around the clock.
That answer was not satisfactory to Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9.
"Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner that's the plus, but our main thing is making sure there is someone immediately available to protect the community from any kind of disaster," said Morgan-Thomas.
Obie Bing, a retired engineer from Con Ed's power generation unit and a member of Community Board 12, served as a volunteer consultant to Jackson on the issue of the new meter station.
Bing says that the new station is an overall plus for Upper Manhattan — however he said that proper monitoring is an important issue.
"This will bring this station into the 21st century and is a great opportunity for this area," he said. "But Hurricane Sandy came along and now we have questions. This plant is in an area where if you have a superstorm there is the question of whether this structure and plant has all the necessary ingredients to withstand that."
"The major concern after the plant is completed is who is responsible? Who does the monitoring? Who reports to the community? How do we know this will be monitored 24 hours, seven days a week?" he added.
Jamaal Nelson, chair of CB 9's Health and Environment committee said the safety redundancies are the greatest concern. However, the project has also raised environmental concerns. There are two types of sturgeon that pass the meter station as they head up the Hudson River to spawn.
The board wants assurances that Transco's construction methods will not disturb the fish's path.
Stockton said that the project's environmental impact statement has been improved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and efforts will be taken to minimize impact on the environment.
Neighbors want Transco to agree to some sort of community benefits agreement in which the group will agree to hire local residents and provide internships.
"We always want to see our community benefit when we are shouldering the burden of being the point of any kind of service coming in," said Morgan-Thomas.