PIPELINE'S PATH: Fear runs right under their feet

June 4, 2007
JFK incident could bring pipelines under neighborhood watch

Until this weekend, long-time Howard Beach resident Gregory Delfino thought the biggest threat posed by nearby Kennedy Airport was a plane crashing in the neighborhood.

On Saturday, he learned that there was a potentially more dangerous threat hidden underground - a pipeline carrying jet fuel beneath the neighborhood to Kennedy Airport.

"I've lived here 25 years and I had no idea there was a pipeline through here," said Delfino, 60, who lives a block from the pipeline. "It's a scary thought."

In Howard Beach, the news of an alleged plot to blow up Kennedy's fuel system shocked residents who said they'd always felt a measure of security in a neighborhood more than 15 miles from Manhattan.

Many residents, like Delfino, said they didn't know there was a pipeline 4 feet underneath 157th Avenue, a shaded residential thoroughfare connecting the area's two neighborhoods - "old" and "new" Howard Beach, as locals call the two developments east and west of Cross Bay Boulevard.

Others knew of the pipeline from the orange and white posts along the street that say "Warning!" to alert construction crews not to dig nearby.

But few were concerned until the plot was announced on Saturday.

"We never gave much thought to the pipeline," said Marie Petrzelka, 56, a Howard Beach resident for 47 years who lives with her husband and mother on 157th Avenue. "I have no idea if it's dangerous, and I don't want to ever find out."

"I am curious why they put it under residential streets," said Petrzelka's husband, George, a college instructor.

The 40-mile pipeline was built in 1966 and carries jet fuel from Linden, N.J., to Kennedy and LaGuardia. It also carries heating oil to many places, including Nassau County. Transporting fuel by underground pipeline is cheaper and safer, oil industry experts have said, than hauling it with tractor-trailers.

The pipeline has numerous safeguards against explosions, according to its owner, Buckeye Partners L.P.

But the alleged plot by four Muslim men disturbed the sense of security of residents feel in Howard Beach, which many residents call a suburb.

"It just shows you're not safe anywhere," said Patricia Downing, 66, a Howard Beach resident for 12 years.

Marie Caccavale remembers how controversial the pipeline was when it was built more than 40 years ago. Like other residents on 157th Avenue, she and her husband lost 5 feet of property and had to tear down a fence so the sidewalk could be widened and raised for the pipeline.

"I thought it was just a horror to have a pipeline right outside our home," said Caccavale, an administrative assistant. "But we had to accept it. Now, we live in fear and that's that."

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