Volume 20, Number 35 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 18 - 24, 2008

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Photo by David Stanke

Recent nighttime work activity at the World Trade Center site.

Port hears the shouts over construction noise

By Julie Shapiro

Six hours of sleep might not sound like something to celebrate, but for people who live near the World Trade Center site, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

After a weekend of quieter construction, followed by several weeknights of loud construction stopping by 11 p.m. or midnight, residents were cautiously optimistic about the Port Authority’s new noise plan, though they criticized it for not going far enough.

In the plan, announced late last week, the Port promised to pay for thicker windows and quieter equipment, but would not commit to a moratorium on loud work between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., as residents and elected officials requested.

“We’ve been listening to you for quite some time,” Glenn Guzi, a Port Authority program manager, told residents Monday at a Community Board 1 meeting. “We know it’s the right thing to do.”

Pat Moore, resident of 125 Cedar St. and one of the leaders in the fight against W.T.C. construction noise, thanked the Port Authority for the plan. “It’s been a long time coming,” Moore said. She asked Guzi to take a message back to the Port’s executive board: “If they lived in the area, it would have happened a lot sooner.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and City Councilmember Alan Gerson helped broker the agreement with the Port Authority.

Under the plan, the Port will pay for landlords within 100 feet of the site to soundproof windows that face the site, up to $1,200 a window; install smart backup alarms that are quieter at night; fit hoe rams, used to break up rock, with noise shields; limit loud construction noise after 11 p.m.; and work with the city Department of Environmental Protection to measure and reduce noise.

The Port will also increase the amount of construction that happens during the day, do blasting rather than jack hammering when possible and tell traffic cops not to blow whistles beneath residents’ windows. The new backup alarms will adjust the volume of the beeping to the level of background noise, so they will be loud during the day and quieter at night.

Gerson told C.B. 1 members Tuesday that the plan “reflects unprecedented responsiveness by the government, by Port Authority, to noise,” but he said more needed to be done.

He sent a letter to Anthony Shorris, executive director of the Port Authority, on Monday detailing his concerns. Gerson asked for soundproofing of windows in a larger area facing more directions, and he requested a timetable for when the changes will take place. Three buildings that face Liberty St. are eligible — 125 Cedar, 90 West and 114 Liberty Sts.

“The bottom line is residents must have quiet time from 11 [p.m.] to 7 a.m. and some time period on weekend days,” Gerson wrote. “It would be immoral and unseemly to rebuild ground zero at the expense of anyone’s health and well-being.”

Kurt Havens, a 90 West St. tenant, appreciated the recent quiet and looks forward to seeing the rest of the plan implemented. Blankets and towels drape the bedroom window of his 19th-floor apartment in an effort to keep out the noise, which he said was becoming unbearable.

“You can get any project done twice as fast if you sacrifice everyone’s well-being,” Havens said.

Quentin Brathwaite, assistant director of World Trade Center construction for the Port Authority, presented the plan at Board 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee Monday night.

Bill Love, a board member who lives in Gateway Plaza, said work ended before midnight recently but still disrupted his sleep when it started again around 5 a.m. He and his neighbors are not eligible for the window money.

“It’s very difficult to meet these deadlines, so we will continue to work long days,” Brathwaite replied. There will be another “rough period” at the end of January or in February, during which the Port will start at 5 a.m. every day and work two 10-hour shifts, he said.

As board members and residents responded indignantly, Guzi, of Port Authority, cut in. Guzi corrected Brathwaite, saying the goal is to stop noisy work around 8 or 9 p.m.

“There will be some times that unfortunately it is not possible to stop at 11, which is why we’re soundproofing the windows,” Guzi said, adding that the worst noise will come in mid-February.

Until then, the Port will offset the earlier stop times in the evening by continuing to start work around 5 a.m. “It’s one or the other,” Guzi said. “They have to meet the schedule.” Port Authority is paying developer Silverstein Properties $300,000 a day after the Port missed the year-end deadline to turn the sites for Towers 3 and 4 over to Silverstein.

“What’s sacrosanct about Port Authority’s economic interests?” resident Mark Scherzer asked. He suggested restricting the work hours and spreading the subsequent costs over the many users of Port Authority’s airports and bridges. “How is that a burden [to the public] compared to the way [the long hours] burden the community?” he asked. The audience burst into applause.

Peter Levenson, owner of 90 West St., sought to put the $300,000 penalty in perspective. He imagined totaling the daily rents of the thousands of Downtown residents who are subject to construction noise, and said the Port’s $300,000 might not seem like such a big number. “We are all quite inconvenienced,” Levenson said. The rent residents pay “is not something being respected.”

A 176 Broadway resident said noise from multiple projects is keeping her children up night after night. Her apartment isn’t within 100 feet of ground zero, so she won’t receive money for installing windows. The noise comes not just from the Port Authority, but also from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Con Edison and several cable companies.

“It’s always someone and it’s always something,” she said. “We need a coordinated Downtown effort to address this noise.”

The residents aren’t the only ones affected by the noise. Visitors who check into the Millennium Hotel across from the World Trade Center site on Church St. are issued a pair of earplugs, but they’re still unable to sleep.

“We’ve lost quite a bit of business,” said Stuart Yule, director of security. He asked Guzi, “How are you going to compensate us?”

Guzi replied that the window soundproofing is not for commercial buildings, but that the Port Authority would meet with Millennium to discuss options.

Jan Larsen, the hotel’s general manager, said after the meeting that he has already pleaded with the Port Authority to reduce their work hours, without results. Many of the hotel’s customers are in town for business and expect a good night’s rest. When they don’t get it, they check out early.

“We’re in the business of selling sleeping rooms,” Larsen said. “We don’t get a lot of compassion from our customers.”

David Stanke, who lives at 114 Liberty St., joined with his neighbors after 9/11 to pay for soundproof windows in the building, an expense that he now sees as well worth it.

“You can never pay too much to protect yourself from government,” Stanke said, drawing laughs from the audience.

The Port estimates that the soundproof windows will cost $500,000 to $600,000, Guzi said.

In terms of the penalties the Port is paying to Silverstein, someone in the audience called out, “That’s just two days.”

The Port Authority also updated the World Trade Center Committee on construction progress at the site. The Port has completed excavation of the Tower 4 site, which is at the corner of Liberty and Church Sts. Now, Port Authority is coordinating the turnover of the site to Silverstein, who will build a tower designed by Fumihiko Maki there.

The Tower 3 site, to the north and a little farther from the residential buildings, will take another month to complete, and then Silverstein will build a Richard Rogers-designed building there. Silverstein has promised not to do construction late at night or early in the morning. The full fines will continue until the site is ready for Silverstein.

The deadline for the Tower 2 site to be ready for construction is June 30, 2008.

The Port Authority also announced earlier this month that the Westfield Group would return to the World Trade Center to run the retail space. There is no word yet on specific stores, but the Port said Westfield is looking at a different mix than the original World Trade Center shops, since the new space features street-level retail.

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