By Rebecca Henely
In response to last week’s natural gas pipeline explosion in Allentown, Pa., City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) touted legislation Tuesday that he and his colleagues in government were writing to prevent the same thing from happening in western Queens, statewide and nationally.
“We have to make sure these pipelines are not a danger,” Van Bramer said.
Standing with Community Board 2 members and other residents on the Sunnyside street corner of 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue, which is bordered by apartment houses and the Lou Lodati Playground, Van Bramer drew attention to a marking that told residents of the Buckeye Pipeline running beneath the streets. He said the pipeline delivers jet fuel to LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports, and there are thousands of miles of such pipelines throughout the city.
On Feb. 9, five people, including a 4-month-old baby, were killed in an explosion in Allentown, Pa., suspected of being caused or fueled by a natural gas pipeline, The New York Times reported. Van Bramer said he was worried such a tragedy could happen in Sunnyside. In 2009, a construction worker struck a pipe at Skillman Avenue and 39th Street, spilling 500 gallons of fuel onto the streets.
“It could have been much worse,” Van Bramer said.
The councilman said one of the reasons the 2009 accident occurred was because the contractor did not call 811, a number those who dig in the city are supposed to dial for information about underground pipelines so that they do not hit one. He introduced legislation in December calling on the state Legislature to institute fines for those who do not call the number — $2,500 for the first offense and $15,000 for every subsequent offense — and said he has been working with state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) in this area.
“With the pipeline running under most of our community in western Queens, it is important that there are ongoing reviews of the regulations to make sure that the residents are kept safe,” Nolan said in a statement.
Van Bramer also said he introduced legislation in May to require those doing ground work near pipelines or other flammable materials to alert the Fire Department in advance. In addition, he praised U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) for legislation to increase pipeline safety.
CB 2 member Dorothy Morehead, chairwoman of the board’s Environmental Committee, said she did not oppose having a pipeline in her community, but was concerned about the safety of the residents, a sentiment also espoused by CB 2 Chairman Joe Conley.
“This is about health and safety and we should move on this immediately,” Conley said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 718-260-4564.