Saturday, August 20, 2016

Concerned New Yorkers Meet and Urge Leaders to Press for Immediate Halt to Spectra Energy ’ s AIM Pipeline

Photo Credit: Erik McGregor

Community members insist that pipeline construction has reached a "state of emergency" with pipeline scheduled to be operational by November

New York, NY –  Over 100 people gathered today in front of Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrands offices in Manhattan to urge Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Governor Cuomo to push harder for a complete halt to construction on the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Pipeline Project. On May 20th the groups convened to thank the Senators for publicly calling for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to halt construction on the project. Since then, FERC has ignored their requests to halt construction in the interest of public safety. Those gathered today said the Senators must act now, and every day as necessary, to force FERC to halt work before the pipeline goes into service in November, going all the way to the White House.

Among those present were representatives of numerous organizations that work state-wide, regionally, and nationally, including: Sane Energy Project, Safe Energy Rights Group, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, and ResistAIM, as well as many angered residents and community members affected by the pipeline construction, and their allies from across the state. The groups are opposed to the project due to concerns about local impacts to health and safety, the regional risk of siting the pipeline next to Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, and global concerns about the fracked methane gas the pipeline will carry contributing to climate change.

Tina Bongar, a resident of Peekskill who works with ResistAIM said, "We are here to remind our Senators that they have the power and influence to stop this project if they choose to act. Spectra Energy is working to complete this pipeline every single day. Our Senators must act every single day until this project stops. They have an obligation to protect the people of New York. We know they can do it."

Courtney Williams, Vice President of SEnRG, was emphatic, "We are in a state of emergency. This pipeline could be operational in a matter of weeks. It is unacceptable that Spectra Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are ignoring the calls of our Governor and Senators to halt construction. We are calling on our leaders to take immediate action for the safety of all New Yorkers. FERC has ignored them, now they must go to the President who appoints the FERC commissioners." Those assembled are asking Gillibrand and Schumer to join with Senators from other impacted states to conduct a joint press conference to bring national attention to this crisis, intervene further with FERC, support the call for a Government Accountability Office or congressional investigation of FERC, and join with other New York State elected officials to urge President Obama to step in to immediately halt the pipeline project. 

This is just the latest development in an ongoing effort to stop Spectra Energy from constructing their massive Algonquin Incremental Market Expansion project only 105 feet from critical safety infrastructure at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. On August 3rd, both New York Senators wrote to FERC,  calling for an immediate halt to construction of the pipeline. Earlier, on February 29, 2016,  New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo called for an immediate halt to construction while the state conducts an independent risk assessment. FERC has the legal authority to issue a stop work order, yet continues to ignore elected officials' calls for protection of public safety.

Spectra Energy's planned expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline has faced a series of setbacks in recent weeks from the revelation that the Natural Resources Group (NRG)  the company hired by FERC to conduct the environmental assessment of AIM had a financial relationship with Spectra, to the  Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's overturning a "pipeline tax" to pay for construction of the pipeline, and the  uncertain future of a planned power plant that would use gas from the pipeline.

In addition to actions by the New York elected officials, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Ed Markey have requested rehearings and  pressed FERC to address conflicts of interest arising from the third party contractor, NRG, hired to perform the environmental assessment on another part of the AIM pipeline network. Yesterday the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts blocked an effort by Spectra and electric companies to pass the costs of the pipeline construction on to ratepayers, removing a potential $3 billion dollars in "pipeline tax" financing. Rhode Island and Connecticut are also in the pipeline path; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in Rhode Island and both Senators from Connecticut have so far remained silent on this issue despite objections of their constituents.

FERC is also facing legal pressure to halt construction. The City of Boston, the Town of Dedham, MA, and a coalition of groups from New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have  filed a  law suit in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seeking to overturn FERC's approval of the AIM pipeline. The briefs site a variety of issues, from a faulty risk assessment of siting the pipeline adjacent to the nuclear power plant, to violations of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Safe Energy Rights Group President and affected property owner Nancy Vann said “This project never should have been approved – but FERC has only turned down one pipeline project in its entire 40-year history.”

Spectra Energys proposed AIM Pipeline is a high-pressure, 42-inch diameter methane gas pipeline that would bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New England,  despite a report from the Massachusetts Attorney General that shows no need for this gas. In New York, if completed, the AIM Pipeline would carry gas through residential communities and within 105 feet of critical Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant safety facilities. Just last April, Spectra Energys Texas Eastern  line erupted in a giant explosion due to pipeline corrosion, and New Yorkers fear what an explosion of this magnitude could mean in such close proximity to Indian Point. Over the last several years, communities along the pipeline route, as well as their local elected officials, have risen up against the pipeline, and now they are counting on New York Senators and Governor to escalate their objections and stop this dangerous project.
For more information, check out the Facebook event  HERE

Photo Credit: Erik McGregor

Friday, August 19, 2016

Erice to Palermo and Our Way Back Home

Last day on the big voyage.

On the way back to Palermo we drove up to the old Phoenician town of Erice.  Like much of the area, it was sacked during the Punic War, coped with Norman invasions, and generations of incursions, leaving enticing remains of its travails. So we explore them trying to learn something, trying to make sense of some of this experience.

It was our last full day in Italy as we make our way to Rome.  We wake up early and made our way out for a final dip in the clear blue waters of Taramina.  An old man in a bathing suit greets us. Bon Giorno, we greet him.  Come va!  He puts his hands up, looking around smiling.  We feel the same way.  We'll miss this a lot.  The  girls and I pick up sea glass, digging in the sand exploring the treasures on the beach.  Some kids are kicking soccer ball. I swim out as far as I can swim, following a flock of seagulls passing the day away.
Below the surface, I think of my parents' epic journeys through the classical world, with friends from school, in days now long past, when they were young and had their whole lives in front of them.  Most of those friends are gone. Dad is gone.  And this is the first summer in a long time that Mom has not been able to travel.  Caroline and I are acutely aware that the time for such adventures with the family sometimes passes.  Moments end, trips cease.  For now, swimming through the blue waters, looking at the walls of this ancient city, I breathe a sigh of appreciation for the adventure we’re enjoyed as we’ve made our way around Sicily, from Palermo, to Cerfalu, Stromboli, to Taraminia, to Siracusa, to Arigento,  to Trapani, Selinunte to the yesterdays island voyage to Favignana, along the Egadi Islands back to today.
Swimming through the water, I think of time passing, of the kids growing older, the trips we’re taken in the past the year,  the water around me, the fish swimming by, the birds in the distance, the Punic Wars that have taken place on these shores, the myths of the Cyclops which Odysseus eluded on this island, and Virgil who chronicled it all.   Borges suggests our lives take us into a labyrinth. I wonder about where this one is taking us, between New York and Sicily, time everlasting. 
Walking back to the hotel, we pick up the last pieces of sea glass for our collection, pieces of tile, molded from the waters and waves of the ocean. 
I look at the fortifications along the shore, protecting the city, which has endured so much.  The city is built to last, having some ten times the recorded history of our new but already decaying empire. 
We go back to the room and I pack my wet shorts, the same shorts that have covered for swimming trunks for six weeks now, alternating with my one other pair of shorts. 
On the way to Erice, Caroline and I recall our honeymoon when we drove around Lesvos in Greece, the car winding through the curvy roads, making our way up to the ancient city,   
We talk about the trip and the summer, making our way to Jamaica after a few delays to stay in Princeton.  A week later,  we made our way back to pick up the kids from camp and left for Florence, Venice, Ravenna, and Rome, before our Southern voyage from Naples to Sicily.  Our twelve-day hike from Assisi to Rome was the highlight of the journey. There are so many kind people we met.  A morning walking along the Nera river at 7 am, strolling through the crisp air, looking at fields, through some hills, up a mountain to a Roman waterfall, before making our way to a lake. These walks stay with me.  They are some of the best moments of my life. Still, it all seem a long time ago The difficult ones are also part of this journey. But we walk through them.  We have to.  Hopefully the sea will stay with me, the views of the cities, the panorama of waves and skies, sunsets and seagulls, last islands and ancient walls we've seen everywhere here.  The stones of Erice, the views from the top of the mountain, the lovely Sicilian wines, the easy going Italians, pushing their way through lines, the legends and ceramics, and the piazzas, and bikinis, and bikes, and train rides, and road trips, and flights on our way back to Rome.
The kids think I have an Italian soul.  Maybe I do?  Who knows?  The Shepards do hail from Dorchester, England which was a Roman colony for a while there.  Sp who knows.  Its never easy leaving.
Buying gifts on the way home, a man asks where we’re from.
New York we tell him.  We’re sad to leave, we explain. 
Well, there are a lot of Italians in New York, he consoles us.
We buy a bottle of lemoncello to put in our bags.
Hopefully, it’ll make its way back home in one piece.
We eat some fresh margarita pizza in the square, overlooking a 14th century church, at Latin inscription on the side, and make our way for the trip back to Palermo.  

You can’t get a bad meal in Italy. 

We have not yet.

Towering over the west of Sicily at 751m above sea level and often covered in its own personal cloud, Erice is a wonderfully preserved Mediaeval town offering the most breathtaking views and a palpable sense of history.
Originally an Elymian city (the Elymians were around before the Greeks ever set foot in Sicily) Erice, or Eryx as it was first called, was a town of no little importance and renown and is said to have attracted the likes Hercules and Aeneas.
Like so many Sicilian towns, it passed from one invader to another as all the usual suspects came and went, leaving their architectural calling cards and their cultural footprints. The name changed from Eryx, to Erice to Gebel Hamed and Monte San Giuliano but its essential character remained, obstinately repelling any attempt to change its real identity.
...often covered in its own personal cloud, Erice is a wonderfully preserved Mediaeval town offering the most breathtaking views and a palpable sense of history.
Amongst the most visited sites are the two castles, Pepoli Castle and Venus Castle. The former was built by the Arabs while the latter was a Norman construction with imposing towers that derived its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the ancient Temple of Venus, allegedly founded by Aeneas.
Other attractions include the sixty (yes 60!) churches including the Gothic Chiesa Madre (1314) and the Mediaeval Church of Saint John the Baptist. Otherwise the maze of cobbled Mediaeval streets are a pleasure to wander around and the views are stunning. On a cloudless day, theEgadi Islands off the coast of Trapani are vividly visible, rising from the sea like giant, motionless whales while to the west the panorama takes in vast swathes of eastern Sicily, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the coastline towards San Vito Lo Capo, Monte Cofano and the Gulf of Castellammare.

Next time, we'll try to make it to the Palermo Archaeological Museum.  But we ran out of time
on the journey.
You can't see everything. I found a few pictures.  These'll have to suffice.
Caroline says she's going to get me the catalog.