Volume 18 • Issue 25 | November 4 - 10, 2005

Talking Point

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Protestors at a recent Lower Manhattan Development Corporation meeting to discuss the demolition of the Deutsche Bank building.

More heat than light from Deutsche meeting demonstrators

By David Stanke

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. recently sponsored an event on Oct. 24 to explain the removal of the infamous and contaminated Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St.  Unfortunately, the meeting became a platform for grandstanding and press baiting.  Behind the commotion and smoke screen, no compelling issues surfaced.  The information session was destroyed for those who, like me, simply wanted information.  Once again, the L.M.D.C. was held hostage by extreme positions, at the cost of the community’s greatest concern as stated in a recent Community Board 1 resolution: real progress at building the World Trade Center. 

To the credit of Community Board 1, various environmental groups and experts, and the L.M.D.C., the removal of Deutsche looks like it will be far safer for everyone involved. We are all indebted to the watchdog groups who have forced the L.M.D.C. to address very real environmental concerns.  But, after months of intense discussions, it is time to stop fighting and move ahead.  The L.M.D.C. has significantly enhanced the original take down procedures (compared to the earlier L.M.D.C. plans of December 2004, May 2005, and June 2005). The Environmental Protection Agency found the Sept. 7 final plans acceptable.

The stated cause for the debate was the format for the October 24 meeting.  The issue became free speech rather than environmental safety.  The L.M.D.C. proposed taking individual questions to experts directly at small tables.  This format allows a resident to get information quickly and discreetly without standing in front of a crowd.  C.B. 1 and others preferred a format with an open microphone with all questions answered publicly.  This open-mic forum favors experts who want to voice objections in a public forum.  It also allows a disruptive individuals to derail the event with or without cause.

The ultimate issue is:  “Will the removal of 130 Liberty be safe for surrounding residents, workers, and pedestrians?”  I live a half block away from 130 Liberty, and I do not believe that the risks from contamination or construction is substantial.  I have not heard a specific and convincing statement to the contrary. To be clear, the contamination in the building can be harmful to humans.  I spent three years after 9/11 dealing with decontamination of our similarly affected condo building. In the course of arranging two fully contained, partial deconstruction and decontamination projects with extensive air monitoring, I spoke with numerous environmental cleaning experts as well as with officials with the City Dept. of Environmental Protection. Cleaning procedures are specifically designed to eliminate the release of dust into the environment. Deconstruction only begins after decontamination has been completed. 

 There is a strong program to monitor air quality conditions for the construction workers and at monitoring sites around 130 Liberty Street.  The outdoor results are available for anyone to inspect at http://www.renewnyc. com/plan_des_dev/130Liberty/air_monitoring.asp.  Aside from contamination, the primary dangers are construction related.  Construction happens all over the city without requiring special emergency procedures.  It is the job of the city Office of Emergency Management to respond to all public emergencies, evacuate people from dangerous areas, and communicate issues to the public.  O.E.M. is supposed to respond to terrorist attacks, including bio-chemical attacks and bombings.  We don’t need a redundant plan by the L.M.D.C.  We need to know that O.E.M. is aware of the situation and ready to respond to any emergency. 

If I am wrong on any of these assumptions, I would welcome an expert opinion written to local papers.  If I am missing some obvious risk factor, please let us all know — enlighten us in a calm, rational manner.

The L.M.D.C. has made and is committed to continue monthly presentations to C.B. 1.  There is no stifling of free speech and no suppression of truth apparent here.  What happened on October 24th is the calculated loss of civility meant to damage the L.M.D.C. with very little benefit to anyone.

Rosa Parks demonstrated that great injustices can be exposed with simple, determined statements of position.  On Oct. 24, people showed up at the meeting with tape on their mouths and signs in their hands, turning directly to the cameras with cool and practiced precision.  I don’t believe that most were from our community.  I suspect that the righteousness of their cause is not as dramatic as their actions.

I understand why the L.M.D.C. tried to structure a meeting that could not be hijacked.  But there is no way to control a public meeting.  They should have structured it with open Q and A after the table sessions, giving anyone with an agenda the chance to air it.  The task of the L.M.D.C. is to hear public comment, address real issues, and balance differing objectives.  My on-going concern with the L.M.D.C. is not that they fail to listen.  Too often, they listen too well and over-commit to rash demands made by minority interests at great cost to the public good.   Community Board 1 would better serve our community by actively pushing the L.M.D.C. to move forward on big issues rather than taking principled stands on areas of little importance.

David Stanke serves on advisory panels on W.T.C. planning and frequently writes on rebuilding issues. His e-mail is bpcunited@ebond.com.


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