Construction finally shuddered to a halt late Thursday on the final leg of National Grid’s pipeline project in North Brooklyn. The city’s thirst for building, building, building had kept construction workers of all stripes among the few professions not sent home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic but that no longer appears to be the case at the site of a project that has drawn the increased ire of local residents in recent months.
The shut down came only a day before Gov. Andrew Cuomo would order construction projects, city-wide, to close down.
But as late as Thursday morning, little had changed at the North Williamsburg site of National Grid’s Metropolitan Reliability Project. The company’s response to calls by both activists and local lawmakers to shutter construction had been defiant. Little green signs reading: ESSENTIAL INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECT and SAFE WORK ZONE had been installed in front of one of the sites, Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project, told Bushwick Daily.
Fraczek says that she observed the National Grid employees working “in close proximity to each other,” in the trenches of the East Williamsburg street where National Grid’s new thirty-inch pipes, the color of wax and dead skin, were being laid. At least one worker, she tells Bushwick Daily, told her that he wished to be with his family instead of possibly contracting the coronavirus from coworkers in the close quarters of construction work.
Last weekend, NYPD began enforcing social distancing measures against gathering of groups in public spaces. It is recommended that people stand at least six feet away from each other in order to stop the virus from spreading.
The delay tells Fraczek that National Grid cares as much about its employees as it does the concerns of local activists like herself.
“I don’t think they sent the workers home because they care about their health and safety, if they were concerned about health and safety at all, they wouldn’t be building the pipeline,” she says, adding that “I think they’ve realized that this is going to be a giant PR nightmare for them if they were sending workers in.”
State Senator Julia Salzar applauded the decision, through a press release, and called it “a victory for the workers and their families who need to be protected from COVID-19, and it’s also a small victory for our communities who have been demanding a stop to the NBK pipeline construction.”
Karen Young, a media representative for National Grid, was adamant that the project will, eventually, continue. “We’re not stopping the Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability project. We’re putting it on pause along with a number of other large capital projects in New York City and on Long Island,” she told Bushwick Daily.
Fraczek doesn’t think the fight is over either.
“This is not our water, this is not food or any of the basic needs we have. This is about them moving their product around the Northeast and under our streets,” Fraczek said.
Top photo taken by Erik McGregor.
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