Bushwick Inlet Park/Williamsburg Power Plant
A developer’s plan to build a power plant just south of the Bushwick Inlet in North Brooklyn failed to gain necessary approval, making the City’s competing plans for a park on the same site increasingly likely. TransGas Energy Systems proposed the plant in 2001 on a waterfront site currently owned by Bayside Fuel Oil near the intersection of North 12th Street and Kent Avenue in Williamsburg. It faced fierce opposition from the community and from city officials, who want to use the eight-acre parcel as part of Bushwick Inlet Park, a planned 28-acre waterfront park. The park plans were included as part of a major rezoning approved for the Williamsburg-Greenpoint neighborhoods in 2005. The TransGas power plant proposal was rejected by the state in 2008, and the company has exhausted all opportunities to appeal the decision.
The City’s Plan: Bushwick Inlet Park
Although New York City does not yet have control of the disputed eight-acre parcel, the first phase of construction on Bushwick Inlet Park got underway in July 2009 on a section adjacent to East River State Park. The park features a $7.1 million multipurpose field completed in January 2010. The second phase, which is expected to cost $22.6 million, will include public waterfront access, a playground, and a building with community and municipal space. Construction on this phase is scheduled to begin in spring 2010. If the city successfully secures the land, Phase II will involve expanding the park onto the Bayside Fuel Oil site.
The TransGas Proposal
The proposed $1 billion, 1,100-megawatt TransGas plant would have converted natural gas to electricity and provided enough power to light 1 million homes. However, the plan generated enormous opposition, causing the developer to twice alter his design in efforts to win city and state support. The first plan, which included a 352-foot smokestack, a 130-foot air cooled condenser, and above ground gas and steam turbines, drew opposition because of its waterfront location in a rapidly-developing neighborhood. TransGas’ second proposal, featuring an underground plant with four to seven acres of parkland on top, failed to appease City stakeholders. Although the state is responsible for approving power plant proposals, state officials told TransGas it must first obtain permission from the City to lay water and steam pipes under municipal property. TransGas disputed this claim. Even so, TransGas also proposed a third design – an electric-only power plant that does involve city land.
In March 2008, the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment rejected the two TransGas proposals that did not have city approval, and deemed the third “inconsistent with land use regulations” for the area. Although its odds of winning were low, the company pursued all opportunities for appealing the state decision. In September 2009, the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division threw out TransGas’ petition to appeal. Finally, in January 2010, the state Court of Appeals refused to hear the energy company’s appeal, closing all avenues for TransGas to overturn the siting board’s decision.
The City can now proceed with an effort started in 2005 to condemn the eight-acre parcel. The condemnation process began with a bizarre twist of events when TransGas president, Adam Victor - realizing he was not gaining support for the proposal - moved on an obscure 1909 law allowing utilities to condemn property for their needs by filing a notice of intention to condemn. Weeks after Victor filed, however, the City filed a pre-emptive suit in the Brooklyn District Court to condemn the land for itself. A judge ruled the City needed to wait for a decision from the state regarding the TransGas proposal, including all appeals.
Over the nine years, Victor made several attempts to win support for his project. In 2005, he attempted to use the Hudson Rail Yards parcel in Manhattan as a bargaining chip by outbidding the New York Jets. Victor had no immediate building plans for the site but - in exchange for a $1 billion bid on the property - wanted support from the City for the Brooklyn plant and a deal with the MTA to provide energy for its trains. The MTA, which owned the rail yards, did not seriously consider the bid because of the accompanying stipulation that the MTA help TransGas build the power plant. At one point, Victor also offered up to $50 million for affordable housing in the neighborhoods. The housing offer was well-received but ultimately did not equate to support for the power plant among public officials.
NYC’s Electricity Needs
Despite its opposition to the TransGas proposal, the City has acknowledged a need for new power-generating facilities. The New York Building Congress, a construction industry association, in a 2006 report estimated the City would need between 6,000 to 7,000 megawatts of new electricity resources over the next 20 year to accommodate growth. To put that in perspective, the City’s electricity demand is generally about 26,000 megawatts (35,000 megawatts at peak demand). Mayor Bloomberg in 2004 proposed an alternative location for the TransGas power plant, suggesting the company build its plant on a former Exxon Mobile site in Greenpoint. TransGas, however, was not interested in the site because it is heavily polluted and would involve a lengthy clean-up that could delay construction. The site also does not have water access to the Con Edison facility in Manhattan. In order to sell steam to Con Edison, TransGas would have had to construct a line under the East River to Con Edison’s steam facilities.
The City does not have a timeline for the condemnation proceedings but expects a decision from the Brooklyn District Court within a year. The Bay Oil site is likely contaminated and will required clean-up before it can be redeveloped into parkland. Even if the City acquires the Bay Oil parcel, however, officials still must negotiate with two other property owners – a storage company and an oil refinery business that no longer uses its Brooklyn site – in order to fully acquire the planned 28-acre park.
Last Updated: April 5, 2010