Volume 17, Number 50 | May 06 - 12, 2005

City close to legalizing diesel storage in Tribeca telecom building

By Ronda Kaysen

The copious amounts of diesel fuel stored in the Western Union Building at 60 Hudson St. may soon be legalized, as the city recently indicated it would grant the building’s owner a long sought after variance.

The city’s Department of Buildings expects to reach an agreement with the building’s owner within the month that would include additional fire safety conditions according to Jennifer Givner, a D.O.B. spokesperson. “We’re considering giving them the variance,” she said of GVA Williams. “We expect this to be finalized shortly.”

The Art Deco building houses several telecommunications company tenants that require back-up generators and diesel fuel to provide air conditioning for sensitive switching equipment in case of power outages. Although diesel fuel is slow to ignite, when it does, the ensuing blaze is difficult to extinguish.

One of the most dramatic examples of the dangers of diesel-fueled fire lies just several blocks south of 60 Hudson St., at 7 World Trade Center, where the diesel the building stored burned uncontrolled for hours on Sept. 11th, 2001, causing the structure to collapse in the afternoon.

The agreement would include fire safety precautions, according Givner, although she did not say what sorts of precautions might be included. “Why disclose something now?” she said, explaining that the details of the agreement might change in the negotiation process. “We’re not going to disclose [the details of the plan] until we have a finalized [draft] agreement.”

But access to a work in progress is exactly what City Councilmember Alan Gerson would like to have. “It’s outrageous that we’re not given information,” Gerson said at an April 19 Community Board 1 meeting. “We want to know about this before it’s a fait a compli.”

Gerson will not be kept completely in the dark, said Givner, and has been updated on the negotiations. “We’ve explained the process to him and how we are handling this procedurally,” she said.

A meeting with the City Councilmember and D.O.B. is scheduled for next week, Gerson said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, adding that he would like to see “state of the art” fire safety precautions in the agreement, along with noise and air pollution restrictions for the building. Givner did not say whether the agency would tell Gerson about the fire safety precautions under consideration.

The Western Union Building stores an estimated 80,000 gallons of fuel, double the amount of fuel stored in the fated 7 W.T.C. Since Sept. 11th, the 20-story building has been the focus of sustained community outrage.

“This building is an old building without adequate safety precautions. To think about making exceptions to what is currently inadequate code is outrageous,” said Tim Lannan, president of Neighbors Against NOISE, a Tribeca group formed in reaction to noise from the building. “What they should be doing is looking for ways to take fuel out of the building.”

The city insists that the variance, coupled with the safety conditions, would make things safer than they are now. “If we allow this [variance,] the safety conditions will be expanded,” said Givner. “We would never allow this to happen if this were a dangerous situation.”

Even a variance will not bring the contentious issue to a close, it seems. NOISE has plans to launch a lawsuit against the city in the event the variance is granted. “If by granting the waiver [the city] actually doesn’t address the safety and health issues, we have grounds for a lawsuit,” Lannan said.


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