Firefighters battling the deadly blaze at the Deutsche Bank building last Aug. 18 had to pump water from the ground because of a broken standpipe.
Few answers provided at Councils Deutsche hearing
By Julie Shapiro
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation left many questions unanswered after a City Council hearing about progress on the former Deutsche Bank building.
The hearing, run by Councilmember Alan Gerson, was to provide the public with an update on the decontamination and demolition of the building at 130 Liberty St., the site of an Aug. 18 fire that killed two firefighters.
Today we will practice preventative medicine, Gerson said at the outset of the hearing, promising to demand answers from the witnesses. However, the answers were not often forthcoming.
While Avi Schick, chairperson of the L.M.D.C., assured Gerson that work is progressing, he did not give a timeline of when hazardous material abatement work or demolition will begin or conclude, and said such a timetable would be counterproductive.
The fact that a monument to mismanagement is still standing
is nothing short of a national disgrace, City Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. told Schick. A timetable is not only productive but is the least I would expect.
Abatement work cannot start until the L.M.D.C. gets approval from a myriad of government agencies. We are days away from the necessary approvals, Schick said.
Schick was also optimistic about the projects progress in September, the last time he testified before the Council. On Wednesday, he would not describe the exact status of the L.M.D.C.s plan, but said the corporation meets with a variety of agencies daily.
The fact that you dont have signoffs yet is ridiculous, Vallone said, adding that the blame for years of delays lies with Albany. The L.M.D.C., which owns the building, is a federally-funded, state-city public authority under the effective control of the governor.
After he said timetables were counterproductive, Schick said he was hoping to have the building down by the end of 2008, a wish several other speakers echoed.
Two months before the fatal fire, Charles Maikish, who then oversaw the project as the head of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, warned residents that the rush to take the building down quickly led to a large pipe crashing through the adjacent firehouse injuring two firefighters slightly.
The site was supposed to be turned over to JPMorgan Chase, which will build its headquarters there, by this September.
The L.M.D.C. still is leaning quite heavily toward decontaminating the entire building before demolishing it, but has not made a final decision, Schick said, echoing his position from November, when he had previously predicted work would resume. Community Board 1 and environmental advocates have continued to press the L.M.D.C. to do the two jobs separately.
While Schick testified that more than 10,000 air samples taken around the building came back within the Environmental Protection Agencys guidelines, he would not say what type of contamination remained in the building.
Were focused on getting the building abated and taking it down, not revisiting history, Schick said. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is leading a criminal investigation into the fire and has convened a grand jury.
The air samples were taken daily immediately after the fire, but have returned to the weekly, pre-fire schedule, Schick said.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency declined to attend the hearing, Gerson said.
The city Department of Buildings has issued more than 10 violations to 130 Liberty St. since the fire. In response to a question from Gerson, Eric Reid, principal engineer for the D.O.B., said the violations which include allowing combustible materials to accumulate in the building do not pose an imminent threat to the public.
The contractor is making good progress on the violations, Reid said. I expect them all to be cured in the near future.
The hearing was the publics first introduction to LVI Environmental Services, Inc., the subcontractor Bovis Lend Lease selected to oversee the decontamination and demolition of the building.
On Monday, LVI is expected to start working at the site, removing concrete slabs that were compromised in the fire. Bovis said it will take eight to 10 weeks to remove the slabs, which are on the south side of the building between floors 15 and 20.
Prior to any abatement work, this needs to happen first, said Frank Voci, senior vice president at Bovis.
The head of LVI, the largest abatement company in the country, said he approached the L.M.D.C. to seek the contract.
Safety is a culture at LVI, president and C.E.O. Robert McNamara said. LVI provides rewards based on safety performance, and has incident rates well below the national average.
Were thrilled for the opportunity to get in after this problem, get it done and get it done safely, McNamara said.
Schick would not say how much the project has cost so far or how much it is projected to cost, but he told reporters he expects to pay LVI in the tens of millions.
Schick and Voci listed the progress made since the fire, including restoring the fire standpipe, rebuilding fire staircases, removing flammable material and resealing the building. Schick said contractors will soon install a fire-suppression system with a sensitive trigger and a system to detect any breach in the standpipe which was broken before the fire and contributed to the deaths.
Bovis also created a new position of project safety manager, assigned to Ray Master, who will work solely on 130 Liberty St.
I am committed, very specifically and concretely, to getting this job done without incident, said Master.
Community members and activists have generally praised the selection of LVI, but many remain concerned about the overall project.
Were very relieved a nationally known contractor is taking over, said Kimberly Flynn, head of 9/11 Environmental Action. However, the community is still waiting to exhale. Were still waiting for Avi Schick to announce that L.M.D.C. is committed to decontaminate the entire building first before demolishing it.
In testimony at the hearing, Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1 and an L.M.D.C. board member, encouraged transparent deliberations, saying there has been progress to that end since the fire.
The most important thing is that the building come down as expeditiously and safely as possible, Menin said during a break in the hearing. She sounded pleased with the goal of demolishing the building within the year, as long as it is done safely.
During the hearing, Gerson emphasized that the delays in demolishing 130 Liberty St. delay other construction on the World Trade Center site, particularly the tourist bus garage and vehicle security center.
There is no time left for needless bureaucracy or governmental delay, Gerson said. Every day the building remains un-razed delays progress at ground zero.