Politics in New York City is a bare-knuckle affair. It was only natural then, when the Atlantic Sea Island Group (ASIG) proposed the construction of a 116 acre offshore Liquid Natural Gas facility off the coast of New York and New Jersey that the Surfrider Foundation's NYC chapter jumped into the ring, ready to throw down. On Sunday April 19th, Surfrider and the Sandy Hook-based Clean Ocean Action rallied concerned residents to Public School 114 in Rockaway Park, Queens, where the Coast Guard was having the third of three public hearings to discuss views on the proposed project.
The space was packed with a rowdy group of surfers, environmentalists, fishermen, stevedores, students, and retirees most of whom were eager to voice their opinions. Of the 60 odd people who took the podium, only one spoke in favor of the project while the rest were unequivocally opposed.
"I've bled and sweated for that water," said lifelong Long Island resident and surfer Daniel Volpe. "If something goes wrong with that plant, maybe ASIG doesn't have to worry about it, but I do."
Disasters, both natural and man-made were on a lot of people's minds. The proposed island would be the first of its kind located in the open ocean and therefore subject to winter storms, North Easters and even rogue waves. This is especially troubling given that LNG pool fires have been described as being "like a nuclear meltdown" .
"I saw the World Trade Centers fall from my living room window," said Rockaway resident Barbara Morris, "I don't think I could live through another disaster."
Joining the citizens in their concerns were a bipartisan collection of local politicians like New York City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-NYC) and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-NYC) who went on record saying "This is a project that derives absolutely no 'public' good".
Less decisive was Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY). "I'm going to let the process play out here and I'm going to keep an open mind, but the hurdle that this plan has to get over is pretty high in my mind," he said.
Projects like this one have been vetoed in California, Connecticut, and Florida. If not vetoed by Governor David Paterson of New York or Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey, the plan could be approved by the end of the calendar year. Until then, NYC Surfrider Chapter chair Chris Wade is trying to mobilize enough public opinion to pressure both politicians.
"We are a direct action group. This is how we win our campaigns," he said at a recent chapter meeting.
When Wade took the podium on Sunday he succinctly summed up the predominant feeling in the room. "This plant will be bad for all new Yorkers. It will be bad for our wallets , bad for our climate, bad for our water , and bad for our security."
After he sat down to a resounding applause, lifelong Rockaway resident Sara Berger, 84, shuffled to the podium. "I have been involved in the community for a very long time," she began, "but this afternoon I have seen something that I have never seen before: a town meeting where everyone is saying the same thing."