Volume 20 Issue 5 | June 15 - 21, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Work at the former Deutsche Bank building last month.

Deutsche rush led to mishap, official admits

By Skye H. McFarlane

Community Board 1 gave the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center a vote of confidence Monday night, despite serious concerns about quality of life issues and the safety of the deconstruction project at 130 Liberty St.

In a candid hour-long discussion with the C.B. 1 World Trade Center Committee, the staff of the L.M.C.C.C. explained details about the Deutsche Bank project and the agency’s overall plans for the future. The talk revealed, among other things, that cost-cutting measures were in part to blame for the May 17 accident in which a 15-foot pipe fell from the 130 Liberty building and crashed through the roof of the 10/10 firehouse next door, injuring two firefighters.

“When you change the routine, that’s when things can go awry,” said command center president Charles Maikish, who has announced that he will be leaving the agency in July.

Maikish said that the contractors in charge of decontaminating and deconstructing the former Deutsche Bank building, which was heavily damaged on 9/11, decided to change their procedures for getting rid of the building’s exterior cooling pipes. The old process of cleaning the pipes and disposing of them as metallic waste, Maikish said, was too time-consuming and expensive.

When workers switched to the new procedure (chopping the pipes into pieces and disposing of them as toxic trash) they forgot about half of a pipe that had been cleaned, but not removed, under the old process. When they dismantled the wall, the leftover pipe fell. The pipe then bounced off of the building, through the safety netting, across the street and through the roof of the fire station, scattering debris into the eyes of two firefighters.

“It was sort of a perfect storm,” Maikish said of the accident. “If you tried to make it fall exactly like that again, I don’t think you could do it. It would be nearly impossible to repeat.”

The agencies associated with the Deutsche Bank project have stated repeatedly that the Dec. 31 deadline for taking the building down does not give the contractors, Bovis Lend Lease and John Galt Corp., any incentive to cut corners. The contractors will lose $29 million if they do not meet the deadline — a goal that is just barely within reach at the project’s current rate of removing one floor every four days. Five of the building’s 40 floors have been completely removed and three are partially taken down, according to the construction center.

Over the last month, both contracting firms have deferred questions about the accident to the supervising government agencies.

Despite the fact that a time-saving change was partially to blame for the pipe accident, the command center representatives stressed Monday that a safe deconstruction is everyone’s top priority. Bob Harvey, the command center’s construction expert, said that because safety violations lead to fines and work stoppages, the contractors have strong incentives to keep the site running safely and smoothly.

The combination of the Deutsche accident, Maikish’s upcoming departure and the revival of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation have led to speculation that the L.M.D.C. — the command center’s parent agency for legal and financial matters — may start to assert more control over the L.M.C.C.C. The development corporation fueled that speculation May 18 when it formed a subcommittee to deal with unspecified “L.M.C.C.C. issues.”

With regards to 130 Liberty, Maikish said that the deconstruction task was never meant to be a part of the command center’s core mission. He said he suspected that the L.M.D.C., which owns 130 Liberty, would be taking a more active role in the project. As for the command center’s larger mission of coordinating and mitigating the large-scale construction projects Downtown, L.M.D.C. President David Emil, who was also at the meeting, said he believed that the command center had a “vital role” to play going forward.

The C.B. 1 committee passed a resolution supporting the continued role of the command center. The resolution stressed the need for the construction center to remain independent, so as to provide unfettered oversight over a wide range of public agencies and private developers.

“We know you’re not perfect, but we really appreciate the effort,” committee chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes told Maikish. “We desperately need you on a day-to-day basis.”

That vote of confidence, however, did not stop community members from grilling the command center on the Deutsche Bank project and other construction issues. The committee asked why the Deutsche contractors had been issued yet another Department of Buildings violation on June 6, less than a week after work resumed on the site. The violation was the seventh citation served at the building since Feb. 26.

Harvey said that the most recent violation was handed down when the contractors failed to store their supplies far enough from the edge of the building. Though a new plywood barrier now prevents materials from falling off the site, the contractors had agreed to keep equipment away from the scaffolding as a part of their revised safety plan. The fact that the violation was issued, Harvey said, merely demonstrated that the D.O.B. and other regulators are now employing a zero-tolerance policy.

“The enforcement is there to make [the contractors] as diligent as they should be,” Harvey said.

Residents of 125 Cedar St. say debris has fallen on their building’s roof and terrace, although they can’t be certain it came from 130 Liberty. They expressed concern Monday that while the construction supplies may be safely behind the plywood wall, debris might still fall from the containers that transport materials off the building. The open, bucket-like containers, the residents said, are frequently overloaded. Pieces of concrete and pipes stick out over the edges, making residents uneasy.

Maikish said that the containers are never supposed to be loaded above their rims. He promised to look into the matter.

Aside from the Deutsche Bank project, the command center’s update was upbeat. A number of long-awaited initiatives have recently moved out of the planning stages and into operation. The agency has hired enforcement agents from the D.O.B., the Department of Transportation and the Police Department. The enforcement agents will patrol the neighborhood to ensure that building codes, traffic regulations and environmental restrictions (such as limits on truck idling) are adhered to. Seven of the agents are already on the beat, with another 51 expected to report for duty in the next few weeks.

The agents will be able to respond to complaints that go through a new 3-1-1 portal. Callers who want to report problems related to Downtown construction can now tell the 3-1-1 operator that they want to be transferred to the command center. The L.M.C.C.C.’s phone system will record the problem and send an email out to the staff.

The command center said it would continue to work to improve its communication with the neighborhood. The agency promised to keep making its Web site and email updates more informative. By the end of the year, a new computerized traffic management system should be up and running. In the meantime, Maikish said, the agency will be focusing on keeping the construction dust down during the hot summer months and enforcing the new city noise code, which goes into effect July 1.

“I’d like to say that we’re at the peak, at the top of the construction activity, but unfortunately we’re not there yet,” Harvey said. “We’re really just at the shoulders.”

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