Volume 17, Number 51 | May 13 - 19, 2005


City must open diesel negotiations at Tribeca building

Two years after the city’s Buildings Dept. told Tribeca residents they were negotiating to grant a variance to allow the owners of 60 Hudson St. to store illegal amounts of diesel fuel, the agency is getting ready to release a plan for the variance. But don’t worry because there will be really good fire safety precautions included in the variance agreement, Buildings spokesperson Jennifer Givner told us last week.

We should hope so. Of course we and concerned neighbors might agree if Buildings were willing to let the public or at least local officials in on what great precautions are under consideration. Buildings has been negotiating in private with the owners, GVA Williams, which leases the offices to many telecommunication firms, who require diesel-powered backup generators.

If agency officials have come up with great ways to make the people living near the building safer, they shouldn’t be keeping them a secret. And if they haven’t, they shouldn’t be getting set to release a variance plan, as Givner also told us last week.

“It’s outrageous that we’re not given information,” Councilmember Alan Gerson said of the situation. Gerson and his aides discovered the illegal storage problem at 60 Hudson a few years ago. The diesel stored at 7 World Trade Center for Mayor Giuliani’s emergency command center, half the amount that is stored at 60 Hudson St., caused the building’s collapse the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001 after burning uncontrollably all morning and afternoon.

In 2003, Buildings commissioner Patricia Lancaster met with Neighbors against NOISE, a group formed to combat problems with the telecom building. She had few answers then. She did say the agency was exploring a variance, but she also wanted to make the situation safer.

There is not an easy answer to the diesel problem. Telecom and other types of firms need to store diesel for backup operations and it is unlikely 60 Hudson is the only building in Lower Manhattan or in the city with illegal amounts. It is not realistic or smart to ban all high-tech firms from the city. The questions are what are the safest ways to store the fuel and what procedures need to be in place to protect the safety of residents and workers. It is also possible that firms with large amounts of stored fuel should not be situated in residential neighborhoods.

The city has allowed an unsafe situation to continue in Tribeca for two more years without offering tangible reasons to feel secure. That inexcusable inaction should have been taken care of yesterday. Negotiating a plan in private and keeping residents, community groups and the area’s elected leaders in the dark, is not the way out of this unsafe situation.

Negotiations have apparently proceeded well enough in private for Buildings to say “trust us.” With all due respect, we’ll trust a plan that can withstand the scrutiny of independent safety experts and a thorough vetting by the community and its elected leaders.

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