It is not a particularly attractive parcel, a less than one-acre strip of grass running adjacent to the New Jersey Turnpike, albeit a tiny part of one of the nation’s most visited state parks in a setting with a bird’s eye view of the spectacular Manhattan skyline.
But yesterday, officials from Jersey City and conservation groups at a hearing in the park railed at a proposed lease between the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Texas Eastern Transmission L.P. to divert 0.93 acres of Liberty State Park to allow the company to build a natural gas pipeline into New York City.
The pipeline project, known as Spectra Energy, is one of several natural gas pipeline expansions spurred by the discovery of huge deposits of the fossil fuel in Pennsylvania and New York. Like others that have been proposed, it cuts through land that has been preserved as open space through taxpayer funds, a practice critics say is a violation of the public trust to protect those lands.
They also complain the state is getting a bad deal, even though the 20-year lease between the company and DEP will deliver $2.279 million for the diversion of parkland, money that will be used to fund green-oriented projects in a park visited by five million people each year.
“It’s unconscionable that the state of New Jersey and Green Acres would contemplate giving up this land,’’ said Jeff Kaplowitz, a lifelong resident of Jersey City, who recalled when the park was just a bunch of weeds. “This is the worst deal I’ve ever seen.’’
Such sentiments have been a recurring theme as natural gas pipelines and high-voltage electric power lines have been proposed and pushed by utilities and power companies through public preserved lands. Foes say it is because it is the cheapest way for the companies to expand the state’s gas and electric infrastructure, a policy endorsed by the Christie administration.
With a more modernized gas and electric infrastructure, the administration believes it will drive down costs to those who heat their homes with the fuel, driving down electric bills as well, which now are among the highest in the nation.
The Spectra project has the added disadvantage of trying to build a new gas pipeline through the nation’s most densely populated county. The proposed route of the 16-mile pipeline, runs from Staten Island to Jersey City and then back into New York City, although company officials say the proposed route does not cross residential property along its entire 16 miles.
The company claims the project is designed to meet New Jersey and New York’s future clean and cheap energy needs by expanding its Texas Eastern Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline. It is designed to bring 800 million cubic feet of natural gas each day to the two states.
That view was disputed at the hearing at Liberty State Park. “There is no compelling need,’’ said Raj Mukherji, deputy mayor of Jersey City, who argued the diversion of parkland should only be considered as a last resort.
“It’s a sweetheart deal. Environmentally, it’s a bad deal; economically, it’s a bad deal; and from a homeland security issue, it’s a horrible deal,’’ he said.
DEP officials, however, defended the proposed lease.
Judith Yeany, chief of legal services and stewardship of the state’s Green Acres program, said the proposed lease with Texas Eastern was based on a recommendation in an interagency report, which criticized past leases negotiated by the agency.
Yeany argued that the compensation for the Spectra project reflects recommendations in the report, which suggested, at a minimum, the state be compensated at least 15 cents rental per square foot. In the Liberty State Park case, that floor was inflated substantially, said DEP officials.
But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, argued the lease still did not reflect the value of the land.
“The current formula, in place, does not properly fit the site,’’ he told the agency. “We don’t believe it is a good deal for the people of New Jersey.’’
The pipeline is expected to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sometime this summer, according to Frank Gessner, a project manager for Texas Eastern. The company hopes to have the pipeline in service by November 2013.