A series of key public comment hearings are to begin on Tuesday for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to consider Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC’s (Transco) application for a water quality certification (WQC) for its Northeast Supply Enhancement Project. 

The project has attracted staunch opposition, primarily related to its proposed crossing of a bay between New Jersey and Queens. The hearings also come at a time when natural gas supplies have been squeezed in the area. Consolidated Edison Co. announced last month that it would stop taking applications for gas service in Westchester County because of the shortage. National Grid, which would be served by the Transco project, has also warned of similar constraints if the expansion isn’t approved.

Complicating matters was DEC’s decision early last year to put its WQC review on hold after it deemed Transco’s application incomplete pending FERC’s environmental review of the project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a favorable final environmental impact statement last month, clearing the project to advance. But the hearings come after DEC’s move to deny the WQC applications of several other projects in recent years, including those for the Northern Access pipeline expansion and the Constitution Pipeline, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has resisted gas infrastructure in favor of aggressive environmental protection policies.

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Transco spokesperson Christopher Stockton said the company wants DEC to issue the WQC within 60 days of the comment period closing on March 15. DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald said the agency expects to make a decision by May 15.

“The DEC will carefully review all comments received during the comment period, as well as statements made at the public hearings, before making a final decision,” she said.

Transco pre-filed with FERC in May 2016 and filed for a certificate in March 2017. Stockton said the company is expecting FERC to approve the project this spring. That timeline might be complicated by gridlock at the Commission, where two Democrats and two Republicans are seated. Commissioners have disagreed over the environmental impacts of gas infrastructure, but a breakthrough came last week when theyapproved Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass liquified natural gas export facility in Cameron Parish, LA.

The nearly $1 billion Northeast Supply Enhancement Project would expand Transco to increase deliveries to National Grid -- the largest distributor of natural gas in the Northeast. The project is designed to create 400 MMcf/d of incremental firm capacity to Northeast markets, primarily to feed demand for gas in New York City.

The expansion would include 10 miles of pipe in Pennsylvania, three miles in New Jersey and 23 miles of pipe offshore New Jersey and New York in addition to a compressor station in Franklin Township, NJ, and more horsepower at an existing station in Pennsylvania. It would link gas from Transco’s compressor station 195 in York County, PA, to its offshore Rockaway Transfer Point, an existing interconnection between the underwater Lower New York Bay Lateral and the Rockaway Delivery Lateral in New York waters.

Pennsylvania issued a WQC for the project in March 2018. Of particular concern for the project’s opponents, however, is the 23-mile segment of new pipeline that would cross Raritan Bay from Old Bridge, NJ, to Rockaway Point in Queens.

Two hearings are scheduled on Tuesday in Brooklyn, while another is set for March 6 in Rockaway Park, NY. DEC is also accepting written comments until March 15, and more information about the hearings can be found on the agency’s website.