Fracking, Spectra, Pier 40

BY JONATHAN GEBALLE  |  As a newly elected Democratic district leader for the 66th Assembly District, Part A, I am thankful and honored to be serving this community.


I am going to address three subjects. For starters, I am thinking about water, water that gives us life, and water that can threaten us. And the question on my mind is whether we are going to allow questionable short-term fixes that endanger, and potentially sacrifice the future, long-term health of this community, this state and this planet. What are we leaving for the next generation, and the several after that?

We know that we are mostly water, and that the earth’s surface is mostly water. As the exploiters of our planet’s resources, we must be the stewards of that precious life source and life-sustainer.

Immediately before us is a crucial decision: Whether this state will allow hydrofracking, a drilling process to be used on the Marcellus Shale in our rural Upstate areas to tap natural gas, but which carries risk and danger. The drilling — which uses a toxic stew of chemicals pumped underground to tap the trapped gas — will poison natural mountain water that quenches the city’s thirst, along with the pure well water that grows our organic produce and livestock Upstate.

We are well aware of the need for development, jobs and business Upstate — although how much of this much-touted benefit would actually help our Upstate cousins is itself questionable.

We are waiting on a state health study and proposed hydrofracking regulations from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, both of which are questionable for lack of public review and comment. Ultimately, the governor will decide.

The Upstate communities that will be first affected by drilling are deeply divided by this questionable industrial practice — not only the invasive drilling, but also the intensive rumble of truck traffic on narrow country roads, the overlay of pools of toxic discharge and the resultant air, noise and visual pollution.

Much of our Greenwich Village community has stood united against any hydrofracking in New York State. If, like me and like the Village Independent Democrats, many of our electeds and a multitude of water protection and other environmental groups, you feel our water is too important a resource to risk, contact the governor and ask him to ban hydrofracking in New York.

Over the past decade or so, our community has been blessed with a new treasure: the Hudson River Park. The Hudson River Park Act engendered the novel idea that the park would be self-funding, and it was envisioned that one of the chief funding producers would be Pier 40, the 15-acre former Holland-America pier at West Houston St. Pier 40 now serves as a parking lot and sports field, but is not generating the anticipated fees and has become a funding drain because of needed maintenance and repair. What to do?

The community has been stymied, with various redevelopment schemes (such as big-box stores) being rejected. But the current proposal to amend the park act to allow tower residential housing — which would be sited in the park, next to Pier 40 — is misconceived. It is the classic lure of short-term infusion of cash with long-term hazard.

Fortunately, Deborah Glick and other elected officials, and many citizens stand against this wrongly conceived proposal. First, residential on the waterfront ignores the evidence of climate change, rising seas and extreme weather. Two hurricanes in two years is a message from Mother Nature, and we are foolish to ignore it by putting more housing in harm’s way. Second, if dwellings are built on Pier 40 the park’s resources will necessarily be drawn to protecting and serving that one piece of property, even more so if it is the dominant funding source for the park. Also, once residential is permitted on parkland, each future funding need will bring another call for more luxury residential in the park as the answer.

More promising is the Durst plan for adaptive commercial reuse of the current pier structure, which preserves sports-field space for children and adults, and which will bring in a mixed use of business and entrepreneurial activities. The capital cost is far lower. Together with other funding sources — such as the proposed neighborhood improvement district, or NID — this will spread the obligations and reduce the impact.

I am one of the attorneys on the lawsuit to stop the proposed Spectra 30-inch-diameter, natural-gas pipeline, currently aimed at the Gansevoort Peninsula, the surrounding park and the adjoining residential neighborhood. The lower court decided against the suit and the decision to appeal is currently being considered. I am writing this less as a litigating attorney, and more as a Greenwich Village resident, which I have been for 35 years.

The central point of the suit, and of the multitude of environmental groups and individual petitioners who brought the suit, is whether the Hudson River Park Trust did its duty by completing a full environmental review as required by state law. A full environmental review would not gloss over the pending, life-threatening arrival of radon — which contaminates the gas — of safety from explosion and of other hazards of the pipeline.

I am proud of the many Villagers who have stood together to demand that government abide by its own laws and ensure that the environmental regulations enacted to protect ourselves, our children and our community from harm are properly followed.


Geballe is male Democratic district leader, 66th Assembly District, Part A

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