Volume 20, Number 34 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Jan. 4 -10, 2008

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Image left by DBOX/Courtesy of Silverstein Properties Downtown Express photo right by Jefferson Siegel

Renderings of the Freedom Tower and World Trade Center Towers 2, 3, and 4, left. Construction work on the Tower 3 and 4 sites last week.

Port misses deadline and says ‘worst’ construction noise is almost over

By Julie Shapiro

In a move that surprised few but angered many, the Port Authority waited until Dec. 31 to announce that excavation of the eastern World Trade Center bathtub would not be complete by the end of the year. The work may last into mid-February and could cost the Port Authority $13.5 million.

As recently as Dec. 26, Steve Coleman, Port Authority’s spokesperson, said the Port would meet the year-end deadline and turn the sites for Towers 3 and 4 over to Silverstein Properties, the developer that is building them.

But on Dec. 31, Anthony Shorris, the Port’s executive director, said there was more rock on the site than expected, requiring an extra four to six weeks of work.

“Every day on this project matters and we know that,” Shorris told Downtown Express in a telephone interview. “We want to get it done as fast as we can.”

The Port Authority is paying Silverstein $300,000 for each day of the delay, but the money will not come out of the Port’s budget, Shorris said. Had the excavation finished on time, the Port Authority would have paid its contractor a bonus of up to $10 million. Now, the money from will go to Silverstein instead. If the fees to Silverstein exceed $10 million, the Port Authority will look for ways to save money on other parts of the $16 billion World Trade Center project, Coleman said. The delay fees will cross the $10 million mark several days into February.

The delay will have “no net effect” on any part of the World Trade Center construction, Shorris added.

Silverstein Properties released a similar statement. “A few extra weeks to complete everything is a minor bump in the road in the context of this entire project,” Janno Lieber, director of World Trade Center development for Silverstein, said in the statement.

The Port Authority did not begin constructing the bathtub until after the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — over a year after the Port received nearly $500 million in federal money to build it.

The Port Authority will now work on finishing up the Tower 4 excavation, which is in the southeast corner of the site. That should take one to two weeks, Shorris said. As soon as the Port finishes that portion of the site, Silverstein will start working on the foundation of Tower 4, Shorris said. Coleman added that Silverstein’s work would not get in the way of the other projects on the site, since the Port is juggling so much construction already.

After turning over the Tower 4 site, the Port Authority will focus on Tower 3, to the north, which will take another three to four weeks. Silverstein will continue to collect the full $300,000 a day until both sites are ready for construction. In all, the excavation is 90 percent complete.

Tower 4, designed by Fumihiko Maki, will include 1.2 million square feet of city and Port Authority office space. Tower 3, designed by Richard Rogers, and Tower 4 will comprise most of the World Trade Center shopping complex.

Dara McQuillan, Silverstein’s spokesperson, said in a statement that he expects the Port to deliver the sites for Towers 3 and 4 “in the very near future.” Meanwhile, “We will advance procurement and other pre-construction activities, so we can hit the ground running as soon as the site preparation work is completed.”

The Port’s next deadline is June 30, 2008, when they will turn the Tower 2 site over to Silverstein or face similar penalties. That building is being designed by Norman Foster.

Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of the Community Board 1 World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee, wished she’d been notified about the delay before Dec. 31. She also questioned the Port’s decision to rescind the contractor’s bonus.

“If there is no longer a bonus in place, what incentive is in place, then, for the contractors to get the job done as quickly as possible?” Hughes asked.

Hughes was also concerned that the penalty fees would affect the public.

“It would be a shame that people who use Port Authority’s services would have to carry the costs of this mis-estimation,” she said, citing toll increases.

Residents who live near ground zero are worried about another kind of cost: quality of life.

“I’m going absolutely crazy from the noise here,” said Pat Moore, a 125 Cedar St. resident and chairperson of the C.B. 1 Quality of Life Committee. “It’s just criminal…. We were already victimized on 9/11 by terrorists, and now we’re victimized again by the Port Authority.”

Although the Port halted the noisiest construction for Christmas and New Year’s Day, all the time leading up to and following the holidays was unbearable, ruining gatherings and making vacation time worthless, Moore said. She has had a headache for days. The persistent pounding keeps her awake through the night and then drowns out her alarm in the morning. “My nerves are completely shot,” she said.

“We understand the concern in the community,” Shorris said, adding that he is looking into noise-reducing technologies.

“The other thing we want to do is get it over with,” Shorris said, “get out of the business of drilling into big rocks and get into the business of building office buildings.”

The current work of excavating and building the concrete bathtub is louder than the subsequent construction of office buildings will be. “I feel some confidence that…this is the worst part,” Shorris said.

When told of Shorris’s reassurances, Moore replied, “What does that have to do with what we’re suffering through now? We’re not talking about type of noise, we’re talking about the time they’re making noise.”

Silverstein will construct Towers 3 and 4 during the day and will not mirror the Port’s round-the-clock shifts, spokesperson McQuillan said. However, Port Authority is still doing work throughout the World Trade Center site and has made no such promises, and Larry Silverstein’s firm will face its own construction deadlines down the road.

To address the residents’ complaints, City Councilmember Alan Gerson organized a meeting Wednesday evening between residents, Silverstein Properties, the Port Authority, State Sen. Martin Connor and aides to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler.

“We encouraged these people to remain and move back after 9/11,” Gerson said after the meeting. “We cannot subject them to 24 hours of excessive noise in their living spaces.”

Gerson said the Port Authority will respond within 48 hours to the residents’ request for a regular noise embargo during late-night and early-morning hours and during one weekend afternoon. The attendees also requested money for double-pane windows and wanted the Port Authority to explore noise abatement technology. In the meantime, the Port is already planning to muffle the high-pitched beeping of truck backup alarms and in the future will blast bedrock instead of jackhammering it.

Those plans mean progress, “But we need more,” Gerson said. “There needs to be an absolute commitment for a late-night and early-morning noise embargo.”

Gerson also asked the Port Authority and Silverstein executives to meet and work out a “creative modification” to their contract, ideally reducing the penalties the Port Authority would pay if noise reduction slows work at the site. “It’s a triple-win situation,” Gerson said of the potential revision.

Meanwhile, residents waiting for a solution are still facing continual noise.

“The last couple of weeks have been hellish,” said Steve Abramson, a 114 Liberty St. resident. “The amount of noise coming out of that site is unbelievable.” Even though Abramson has sound-modifying windows that face Cedar St., not Liberty St., the pounding still penetrates his apartment.

“Why should we suffer because they didn’t make the deadline?” Abramson asked. “We know this has to get done, and we’ll deal with it, but don’t kill us late at night and on weekends.”

The respite on New Year’s Day made Abramson realize how bad the noise is the rest of the time.

“It was such a pleasure, so noticeably quiet,” Abramson said. “It reminded me of when nothing was being worked on at the site.”

Residents of 90 West St. are also suffering through the noise.

“I’ve called 311 countless times, and they couldn’t care less,” said Jane Emanuel, who lives in 90 West with her 11-year-old son. Her 20th-floor apartment faces the World Trade Center site, and while her white noise machine masks some of the noise, it isn’t always enough. On the upside, Emanuel’s rent did not go up this year, which she called a “godsend” for her as a single mother. The quality of life issues, though, make the coup bittersweet.

“If they would just stop occasionally, one day a week,” Emanuel said, her voice trailing off. “It’s obnoxious.”

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