Volume 18 • Issue 49 | April 21 - 27, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Gov. Pataki said last year that demolition of Fiterman Hall would begin last October, but officials now think the work won’t begin until this fall at the earliest. Below, is a rendering of what the new building will look like.

More E.P.A. concerns, more demolition delays

By Ronda Kaysen

Environmental concerns have delayed the demolition of three buildings near the World Trade Center site, evoking fears among local residents that their neighborhood is still contaminated.

This week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority halted the demolition of 189 Broadway, a two-story building that is being dismantled to make way for the new Fulton Street Transit Hub, after local residents and political leaders voiced doubts about the demolition process. Two weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency failed to approve a demolition plan for Fiterman Hall, a 9/11 contaminated building at 30 West Broadway. And the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is in the midst of regulatory and public relations snafus about the Deutsche Bank building, a 40-story tower overlooking the Trade Center site at 130 Liberty St.

“We’ve become the new victims of 9/11” said John Fratta, a Community Board 1 member at a public meeting this week, referring to growing concerns about lingering contamination Downtown. “Down the road, it’s going to come out that we were all the victims of 9/11.”

Residents have long worried that the buildings surrounding the Trade Center site might still be contaminated with harmful Trade Center dust that contains mercury, lead, asbestos and a host of other toxins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this month pointing to respiratory ailments that affect 9/11 survivors. And last week, a New Jersey coroner declared that N.Y.P.D. detective James Zadroga’s death was caused by his exposure to toxic dust at ground zero.

So when a Broadway resident noticed what appeared to be an unsafe demolition process at 189 Broadway, she immediately reached out to regulators, setting off a chain of events that ended with the M.T.A. stopping work on the building.

The M.T.A. plans to demolish 189 Broadway to make way for a new $785 Fulton Street Transit Hub that will combine the Broaday/Nassau/Fulton stations into a uniform station that connects to the Calatrava PATH station at the Trade Center. The M.T.A. hopes to complete the new station by 2009.

On Saturday morning, Catherine McVay Hughes’s 14-year-old son leaned out his apartment window and noticed workers hauling debris from the two-story building and working on the roof.

“Millions of dollars have been allocated and it’s a surprise that local residents have had to do that sort of surveillance in their neighborhood,” said Hughes, who is also a civil engineer and chairperson of Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee. “The onus of these demolitions on weekends really should have the oversight of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center and I’m surprised that it fell through the cracks.”

The Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center said the M.T.A. had all the necessary permits to do the preliminary demolition work it was doing. Furthermore, the center’s role — to coordinate the mammoth construction projects facing Lower Manhattan — is not regulatory by nature.

“We were aware of the work. The regulators were aware of the work. We had discussions before the permits were issued,” said Thomas Kunkel, director of environmental compliance at the command center. “We have been on top of the job and providing the community with the information that they request.”

The E.P.A. met with the M.T.A. this week about 189 Broadway, after Hughes reached out to them. And U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler ramped up attention to the issue when he voiced his pleasure that the M.T.A. stopped work.

“Since [189 Broadway] is high profile, I imagine E.P.A. is going to keep a close eye on it,” Wendy Thomi, community involvement coordinator for the E.P.A , said about her office’s expected oversight of the building.

M.T.A. halted work this week and has not said what its new timeline is. “There is no defined demolition schedule,” said Timothy O’Brien, an M.T.A. spokesperson. “We will determine the best way and the best timeframe to take down that building.”

Unlike Fiterman Hall and Deutsche Bank building, which have both been uninhabitable since 9/11, 189 Broadway was cleaned twice since the disaster—once by the building’s owner and once by regulators—and was occupied by commercial tenants until they were evicted by the M.T.A. in December in preparation for the demolition.

Nevertheless, residents fear the building could still contain the same Trade Center toxins that have settled in Deutsche Bank and Fiterman. “There has been, over the past couple of weeks, a broader awakening to the environmental issues in Lower Manhattan,” said Reid Cherlin, a spokesperson for Nadler.

The E.P.A. approval process for contaminated buildings near the Trade Center has proven to be painstaking. The New York State Dormitory Authority, which is overseeing the cleanup and demolition of Fiterman Hall, a Borough of Manhattan Community College building, submitted its plans to the E.P.A. in January. Two weeks ago, the E.P.A. responded with lengthy comments, seeking additional information about numerous aspects of the demolition.

Fiterman, a 15-story building, was badly damaged in the Trade Center disaster. Last May, the governor announced last spring that the state had finally secured the $185 million needed to dismantle the building and rebuild a new one in its place. He declared that work would begin by October 2005. The year came and went and in January, the Dorm Authority revised that date considerably, saying demolition would begin in May. Now, bidding for contractors has been delayed until next month and Paul Burgdorf, the authority’s spokesperson, said he doesn’t expect work to begin until the fall, providing E.P.A. has signed off on the plan.

“You can’t start work until you have an approved plan. You can’t get final prices [from contractors] until you know,” Burgdorf said.

For the residents and workers living in the shadow of the shrouded building with visible gashes in its façade, the delay is another setback in a seemingly endless process.

“After four years, it’s well past time to get moving on Fiterman Hall,” Larry Silverstein, who owns 7 World Trade Center, which looks out on Fiterman, said in an e-mail statement to Downtown Express. “It’s a real downer to take prospective tenants past that eyesore on the way to 7 W.T.C.”

Next month, Silverstein will hold the opening ceremony for 7 W.T.C. and a tiny park at the northern corner of the Trade Center site, directly in the shadow of Fiterman.

But even E.P.A. approval does not guarantee that work will proceed on schedule. The demolition of the Deutsche Bank has been riddled with problems. Earlier this month, the E.P.A. did not approve changes to the L.M.D.C.’s demolition plan, stalling the second phase of the process. Two workers have fallen since the scaffolding was erected, shards of glass have twice fallen to the street and on Sunday the Daily News reported that the John Galt Corp., an asbestos abatement subcontractor, has links to Safeway Environmental Corp., a contractor with known links to the Gambino crime family.

“It’s unacceptable that these issues are being raised now,” said C.B. 1 Chairperson Julie Menin at a public community board meeting on April 18. “We need an agency that will give proper oversight of the cleanup.” C.B. 1 unanimously passed a resolution chastising the L.M.D.C. for its hiring choices and the changes it made to its demolition plan.

To add to the overall jitters surrounding Deutsche Bank, more than 500 bone fragments of 9/11 victims have been found in the building since the cleanup effort began there.

The L.M.D.C. insists that the public’s anger is misdirected — the agency is simply making the best of a trying situation. It purchased the building from Deutsche Bank in August 2004 with the intention of dismantling it to make way for the new Trade Center. “The Downtown community wants to see that building come down. The community wants to ensure that the takedown is conducted safely. We’re going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that,” L.M.D.C. president Stefan Pryor said in a telephone interview. “Sometimes I think folks might lose site of the role that we’re planning, which is to navigate all of the requirements to take this building down as efficiently as we can and we’re doing that.”

But for the residents, the continued delays and setbacks are unnerving. “I’m surprised that we’re approaching the five-year anniversary [of 9/11] and we still have two large toxic buildings that have to be taken down,” said Hughes, referring to Deutsche Bank and Fiterman. “I thought we wouldn’t be looking at these buildings anymore.



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