Volume 19 Issue 54 | May 25 -31, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Workers removed loose debris from the former Deutsche Bank building Wednesday after a 15-foot pipe crashed through the Ladder 10/Engine 10 firehouse last Thursday, injuring two firefighters. Once the loose material is removed, a city stop work order will go into effect.

Pipe crash through firehouse is 6th Deutsche violation in 3 months

By Skye H. McFarlane

As word spread around Lower Manhattan last week that a 15-foot section of steel piping had fallen from the top of the former Deutsche Bank building and crashed through the roof of the 10/10 firehouse next door, the same refrain could be heard over and over in meeting rooms and elevators around the neighborhood.

“You see,” local residents and community board members said. “They’re not crazy.”

They, in this case, are the residents of buildings near the Deutsche Bank site at 130 Liberty St. For years, the residents have called and emailed the agencies responsible for the deconstruction of the 41-story office tower, which was heavily damaged and contaminated on 9/11. At scores of public meetings they have spoken of their concerns regarding the physical and environmental safety of the deconstruction project. Typically, agency officials assure them that there is nothing to fret about.

Now, after the latest — and arguably the most serious — mishap at the site, local residents are clamoring for fewer comforting words and more concrete actions to protect and inform the community.

“They assured me that it was absolutely just beyond worrying about,” said Mark Scherzer, a 125 Cedar St. resident who had a long phone conversation a few weeks ago with officials from the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, the agency that manages the deconstruction project. “There’s a view a we’re just oversensitive because we’ve been traumatized. I think we’re not so oversensitive after all.”

Scherzer called the command center because he suspected that the Deutsche Bank site was responsible for a 6 by 6-inch chunk of concrete that appeared mysteriously on his roof terrace a few weeks ago — though he says he can never prove it for sure. Other residents have complained at public meetings about seeing small pieces of debris — glass, concrete, metal mesh — falling from the building. Some of the complaints were never reported to the authorities while others could not be verified by city Dept. of Buildings inspectors.

The project has been cited for six Buildings violations in the last three months, including one for violating a stop work order.

Thursday’s falling pipe incident drew national media attention. Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries and released. At least three agencies are investigating the accident and the Buildings Department has stopped work on the site indefinitely. To those who have followed the Deutsche Bank story closely, however, the latest accident did not come as much of a surprise.

“This is what I’ve been afraid of from the very beginning,” said Pat Moore, a Community Board 1 member whose apartment at 125 Cedar St. faces the wall of the damaged firehouse. “This is one of the largest buildings to ever be deconstructed within a large residential area.”

In addition to delays due to insurance snags, a labor dispute and the discovery of human remains from the Twin Towers collapse, the process of decontaminating and removing the 130 Liberty St. building has been plagued by safety concerns. Environmental regulators originally rejected the project’s plan to remove toxins from the building and the project was later flagged for not having cleanup workers wear proper protective gear.

In 2004, and again in 2005, large pieces of glass fell from the building, forcing the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (which owns the building) to temporarily close nearby streets. In April 2006, the Department of Buildings served the project with a violation for inadequate safety railings after a worker fell down an elevator shaft. On May 10, two workers fell roughly five feet off of some scaffolding, but no violation was issued.

Since the start of heavy deconstruction work in mid-March, there have been a string of violations at the site. According to the D.O.B. Web site, on April 11, city inspectors discovered that workers were “storing” stacks of plywood on an exposed section of exterior scaffolding on the 39th floor, where it was in danger of falling off the building. On February 26, March 28 and April 19, the project was cited for work without, or contrary to, building permits. On March 29, workers were flagged for violating a stop work order.

Most of the official violations at the site, including Thursday’s citation for failing to protect public safety and property, have been issued to John Galt Corporation, the subcontractor hired by L.M.D.C. and Bovis Lend Lease to help with the deconstruction.

In 2006, C.B. 1 passed a resolution challenging the selection of Galt as the subcontractor on the project, citing Galt’s lack of experience in asbestos removal and ties to Safeway, a construction firm with a history of worker safety problems. A Dec. 31 deadline for the complete removal of the building, which must be taken down before a bus parking facility and an office tower can be built on the site, has further worried residents, who fear the contractors will rush the job. The contractors will lose $29 million if the deadline is not met.

On Friday morning, Avi Schick, the Empire State Development Corporation president and chairperson of the L.M.D.C., discussed the falling pipe accident. Schick expressed his relief that no one was seriously hurt in the incident and stressed the fact that safety inspectors from L.M.D.C., the command center and Bovis give the site “three layers of oversight.”

Nevertheless, Schick said that the development corporation would be investigating the accident and that early indications were that the falling pipe was a result of human (rather than systematic) error. Schick adamantly refuted the suggestion that the tight project deadline might have contributed to the accident. He said he was still hopeful that the end-of-year timeline could be met. Asked if Galt was doing an acceptable job on the project, Schick simply repeated that the L.M.D.C. and its engineers were investigating the incident.

The L.M.D.C. has also formed a subcommittee to deal with what Schick called “L.M.C.C.C. issues.” Though he would not elaborate much on what those issues were, he hinted Friday that the subcommittee would think about the command center’s mission as well as safety concerns. Perhaps as a sign of this increased oversight, both the command center and Bovis declined to comment this week and referred press inquiries about the Deutsche Bank accident back to Schick’s two agencies. The L.M.D.C. has also established a temporary, 24-hour emergency hotline — (646) 942-0694 — to deal with pressing concerns about the project.

“Safety is our number one concern,” Schick said. “We have gone through extraordinary effort and expense to put the local residents and businesses first.”

In addition to the L.M.D.C., the D.O.B. and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are both investigating the incident. On Wednesday, crews were allowed back on the 130 Liberty site to “remove loose debris and scaffolding frames from the upper floors,” the D.O.B. said in an email to Downtown Express. Once the debris is removed, however, a full stop work order will remain in effect on the project until the D.O.B. completes its investigation and “reviews the contractors means and methods to ensure public safety will be upheld throughout demolition operations.”

Decontamination work on the building’s lower floors is continuing.

Regardless of any additional safety measures that may result from the current investigation, many residents say they are taking their own precautions, such as avoiding walking past the building altogether. Most say that they will not feel entirely comfortable until the shrouded and seemingly cursed building is gone for good. In the meantime, they say, they would welcome a clear emergency action plan and better community notification when problems occur.

“We keep hearing that they’re going to be reaching out to us,” Scherzer said, “but mostly what’s been reaching out to us has been debris.”

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