by Laura Russo
One-lane traffic, noise, overnight construction, and greatly improved natural gas service are on the way – and soon – as Consolidated Edison (Con Edison) undertakes construction considered necessary for Roosevelt Island’s energy future. Con Edison has received their permits from RIOC and will be starting the work imminently.
This information was shared by Con Edison representatives at a July 23 town hall meeting held at Good Shepherd Center. On the agenda was a conversation about upcoming gas upgrades on the Island. The scope of the planned work, mitigation strategies for possible disruptions on Main Street, and plans to ensure resident safety were among the issues addressed.
What’s Being Done
Con Edison’s plan to upgrade the gas system on Roosevelt Island includes replacing existing gas risers, installing a new gas main along Main Street, and connecting new and existing users to the new gas main. Con Edison said the project will improve system reliability, replace aging infrastructure, reduce maintenance work, and increase capacity for new and existing users. Additionally, the replacement gas pipes are designed with new safety features.
Currently, Roosevelt Island receives only one gas feed, from a pipe in Queens. The installation of the new gas main will allow for a second feed, connecting to a pipe in Manhattan. Thomas Femia, Engineering Supervisor for Con Edison, explained that the second feed will increase service reliability. When there’s a maintenance issue, the new feed will help avoid service disruption. He also said that the current pipes are made of steel and that steel rusts; the new pipes are made of polyethylene and designed to last longer, which will reduce service calls.
The project is tentatively scheduled to roll out in three phases. The first phase will replace the existing gas risers located on Main Street, adjacent to Capobianco Field. (Gas risers are vertical pipes that connect to the supplying pipe.) Phase two will be installing the new gas main along Main Street, and the final phase will be to connect new and existing users. Phase one can begin as early as next week, and phase three is tentatively scheduled for spring 2016.
Phase one, to replace the gas risers, is scheduled to last between two and three months, with most of the work done at night, between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., Monday through Friday, to avoid disruptions to bus service and to school drop-offs and pick-ups in front of PS/IS 217. Femia clarified that the first week of work, excavating and removing the old risers, will take place during the day from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., because it’s the noisiest portion of the project.
Michael Lombardi, Construction Manager for the project, explained that crews will be working to remove the old risers by disconnecting the pipes, located 140 feet below the street in a tunnel that’s approximately 10 to 12 feet in diameter. The pipes will then be removed in 20-foot sections and replaced by the new polyethylene pipes. Lombardi also said that Con Edison expects that the old pipes will have been treated with a coal-tar wrapping that contains an asbestos-like material. Lombardi said that Con Edison takes every precaution in removing and disposing of this material, and that all pertinent safety protocols will be in place during this process, including air-quality monitoring.
Femia and Lombardi noted that phase one, replacing the existing gas risers, is the most vital part of the project, and they expect to have the work completed no later than November 1 to address any increase in demand before the start of the heating season.
Phase two of the project, installing the new gas main, is slated to begin in August in front of the FDNY building and move south along Main Street. Work on phase two is tentatively scheduled to last three to four months, concurrently with the riser replacement.
John Romano, the Project Manager, explained that because it is critical to replace the existing gas risers, and because Con Edison has received numerous requests for new service, Con Edison was prompted to integrate both projects into the current plan to lessen the construction time and to avoid a second planned disruption to the Island.
When asked who had made requests for service connections to gas, Romano responded that he “was not at liberty to answer at this time.” He did note that Con Edison has received numerous cogeneration requests. He also reiterated that the company is sensitive to the concerns of residents regarding the impact of the project in light of the current façade work on Main Street, saying that accommodations have been built into the plan for both PS/IS 217 and the other construction work currently being done. He noted that “having an open dialogue” with the community was essential to the success of the project.
Safety at the worksite was a concern for residents, especially in the area near PS/IS 217. Lombardi explained that each day, once crews are finished working on a particular section, the excavation site will be filled and covered with steel plates. At no time will there be any open construction areas on Main Street. Additionally, full-time inspectors will be on location at all times, and all work will be inspected daily.
Femia noted that phase three of the project, to begin in spring 2016, when the new gas lines will be connected to new and existing customers, will be the least invasive, with work done one to two days at a time, and will include changing gas meters and regulators. Romano said that although phase three will be less invasive, it will be just as important as phases one and two. He reiterated that it is vital for Con Edison to have the capacity to serve their customers through the winter, and to energize the new gas main in the spring. “[Con Edison is] working to meet the objectives of everyone, with commitments to various stakeholders in the spring, and [we] are trying to balance the needs of everyone.”
Moderator Caroline Kretz, Director for Manhattan Public Affairs for Con Edison, acknowledged their partnership with RIOC, and RIOC’s role in the planning process. She said, “[RIOC remained] at the table with us, keeping our feet to the fire, every step of the way: [planning], design, to the first shovel in the ground and beyond. RIOC has been an advocate for residents.” Kretz assured those in attendance that, with RIOC’s help, every possible effort will be made to keep disruptions on Main Street to a minimum. She noted how different Roosevelt Island is from other areas of Manhattan, and the importance of being mindful of the Island’s unique setting.
Traffic and Parking
Lombardi explained that once work on phase two begins, the active construction site will move daily. He said Con Edison expects to work in 100-foot zones, and to complete between 100 feet and 300 feet each day. He acknowledged that Roosevelt Islanders will lose a parking lane in the active construction zones, but Con Edison expects that parking disruptions will be kept to a minimum because of the planned movement. In addition, Romano explained that Con Edison construction crews will be traveling to work sites in company vehicles and will not take up additional street parking spaces with personal vehicles.
Another big concern expressed by residents regarding possible traffic issues was addressed by Lombardi, who explained that, where possible, two traffic lanes will be kept open, though it may not always be possible because of the street’s layout and varying widths, especially in the area around the FDNY building. He reiterated that, because of the planned movement of active construction sites in conjunction with the work being done at night, this disruption would also be kept to the minimum possible, and that Con Edison would have two flagmen on hand to direct cars and pedestrians safely through the area.
While Con Edison has scheduled construction from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. to mitigate the parking and traffic disruptions, residents expressed concern about the nightly noise. In anticipation, Con Edison’s plan includes noise barriers and panels to dull the sounds of construction, noise protection panels under road plates to avoid loud rumbling, and alternatives to backing-up alarms for construction equipment and vehicles.
Yet to Come
At the outset, Kretz faced criticism from those in attendance because of the short notice for the meeting. Residents accused Con Edison of a lack of engagement with the community. Kretz acknowledged that Con Edison was aware of the short notice of the meeting, and explained that the project hadn’t received preliminary approval until July 17, and Con Edison wanted to begin engaging with the community as soon as possible.
Kretz assured attendees that this meeting is “not the only bite of the apple for the community to speak to Con Edison about this work.” She also said that once the project starts, residents can expect weekly updates on the project, and any changes in the construction plan, permits, and scheduling. She said that Con Edison was still figuring out what form such distributions would take to best engage residents, and was open to suggestions.
Kertz concluded the meeting by noting that Con Edison will be sending communications to residents to address all concerns, and will be as specific as possible in detailing the construction plans and any changes or updates.