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Queens Chronicle

Caught in crossfire of pipeline war

‘No exceptions can be made’ for medical gas line in Howard Beach

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2019 10:30 am

Phone calls to National Grid’s customer connection department these days go straight to voice mail.

“Due to the Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline of National Grid awaiting state approval,” the recorded message says, “all phone messages are taking longer to be returned and all paperwork submissions are taking longer to be reviewed. Your patience is greatly appreciated at this time.”

Andrew Sampino, a retired beauty-products manufacturer who lives in Howard Beach with his wife, Virginia, knows the message is a polite falsehood.

Requests for new gas service are not “taking longer to be reviewed.” They are being denied. All of them.

Sampino has been trying since early summer to get permission from National Grid to a install a 20-foot gas line from the street in front of his house on 83rd Street to his side yard.

Sampino, 78, who has been taking care of the wife since she was diagnosed with dementia seven years ago, paid $17,000 to have an emergency generator installed next to the house in case of a blackout — not unheard of in Howard Beach.

“God forbid, the lights go out,” said Sampino, “She’s in danger.”

Without power, he cannot get his wife up and down the stairs in the house and can’t operate the hospital bed she sleeps in or the medical bathtub he needs to bathe her.

When he ordered the generator last May, Sampino told the supplier, “I want an emergency generator like the hospitals have — just to be safe.”

The first hint of trouble came a few weeks later when he called to ask why the company hadn’t done the work yet. The generator was ready to go, it said, but National Grid had not yet issued a permit that would allow it to be connected to the gas main in front of his house.

Sampino, who used to own factories in College Point and Brooklyn and on Long Island, thought his experience dealing with stubborn bureaucrats would get the situation straightened out.

Two months and dozens of phone calls later, he is no closer to getting a permit.

“I started telling them that, if anything happens to my wife, ‘I will make your lives miserable,’” he said.

“The infrastructure serving the region has reached full capacity and is unable to meet growing demand,” Karen Polise, a spokeswoman for National Grid told the Chronicle in an email this week.

“Unfortunately, no exceptions can be made as adding additional service without [a new pipeline] would pose a risk to the operational integrity of our system and compromise natural gas use for our existing 1.8 million customers in New York City and on Long Island,” the email said.

Sampino is an innocent victim, caught in the crossfire between National Grid and Gov. Cuomo, who are engaged in a trench war over a proposed natural-gas pipeline across New York Harbor.

State regulators last May denied National Grid permission to build a 23-mile pipeline from New Jersey to the Rockaway peninsula, claiming it would be an environmental hazard.

In response, National Grid, citing what it claims are looming gas shortages, stopped processing all requests for new hookups.

The moratorium has prevented building projects large and small in Queens and on Long Island from getting gas service.

Last week, Cuomo ordered the state’s Department of Public Service, which oversees utilities, to investigate National Grid’s refusal to provide service — and to find another gas provider for the region if the company doesn’t start servicing new customers again.

“I understand, I ran a business,” Sampino said, sitting in his living room while his wife watched TV with a part-time attendant in the next room.

“But this is a medical problem,” he said, his voice rising.

“I’m not going to lose my wife after nearly 60 years because some jackass won’t lay a gas line.”

Hurricane Dorian, which this week flattened the Bahamas. and was threatening Florida and the Carolinas before heading north, was just another reminder, Sampino said, that he lives in a vulnerable area.

“If anything happens to her, I will go ape,” he said.

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