Volume 20, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Feb. 22 - 28 , 2008

Officials hope Deutsche demo can resume late this year

By Josh Rogers

In politics they say the cover-up is always worse than the crime and in toxic demolitions, apparently the cleanup takes longer than the deconstruction. So said David Emil, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is hoping to begin dismantling the former Deutsche Bank building later this year.

Emil — who did not use the political metaphor — told Downtown Express last week that the abatement work ridding the building of toxic chemicals is only in its preliminary stages and once it begins fully, it will take much longer to do than the physical removal of the building structure at 130 Liberty St.

“The abatement definitely should take more than the actual deconstruction,” he said Thursday after the L.M.D.C.’s board meeting.

The building has often been described by Downtowners and government officials as the ugliest and most prominent reminder of the delays that have mired the World Trade Center site since 9/11. In addition, construction on new headquarters for JPMorgan Chase and on a bus garage for W.T.C. memorial visitors cannot begin until the building is dismantled.

Emil said he was confident the abatement work would not take the rest of the year, but the original work plan he laid out suggested that it would be longer. Emil, through a spokesperson, amended his remarks this week and laid out a work plan that could begin in mid-March and be completed in about eight months under a best case scenario. If so, the physical removal of the building severely damaged by the collapsing Twin Towers would resume toward the end of November and could be done in about 75 days.

The long-delayed plans to dismantle the building, which the L.M.D.C. owns, began a year ago, but demolition work ceased Aug. 18 when a fire killed two firefighters.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the city Dept. of Buildings cited contractors with numerous safety violations prior to the fire, and the city continues to issue violations.

OSHA had remained silent after the fire until this week when the agency issued $464,500 worth of fines to Bovis Lend Lease, the main contractor, and to the John Galt Corp., an inexperienced subcontractor with alleged mob ties that has since been thrown off the project.

Galt was issued three “willful” and 22 serious violations and was fined $271,500. Bovis got two willful violations and 17 serious ones for a total of $193,000.

The violations were for problems that had been previously reported including several factors that led to the fire and the fatalities — a broken standpipe that had not been maintained or inspected; the acceptance of smoking in the building; and blocked emergency stairwells.

OSHA also cited the firms for things that were in the approved abatement-deconstruction plan that were intended to prevent the release of toxic chemicals into the air, including the presence of combustible materials and sealed exits.

Galt, which had been fined $88,500 for 26 previous OSHA violations at 130 Liberty, has not commented in the press. Bovis, which had been fined 18,000 for five OSHA violations, released a statement challenging the new violations and pointing out that they were announced just before the six-month statute of limitations.

“Bovis strongly disagrees with both the willful and the serious citations and will vigorously defend against these allegations,” the firm’s statement said in part. “Demolition of 130 Liberty Street is one of the most complicated and highly regulated abatement and demolition projects ever in New York City. Bovis’ work prior to the August 18th incident was proceeding under an approved and closely monitored deconstruction and abatement plan.

“Over the past six months, Bovis has worked with city, state, and federal agencies in planning for the resumption of work. In the past month, working with these agencies, Bovis has successfully developed a revised health and safety plan for the rest of the abatement and demolition project. ”

Frank Voci, Bovis’ senior vice president, who was transferred to 130 Liberty after the fire, told Community Board 1 members and residents last month that Bovis wanted “to regain your trust and confidence.”

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is investigating the contractors and government officials who worked on the Deutsche project.

Emil told Downtown Express last week that work decontaminating the area near slabs that have to be removed is currently underway on the building’s top floor, 19. Once the slabs are removed, a decontamination chamber will be built allowing the full abatement of the top floors to begin. Officials hope this decontamination begins in mid- or late-March.

LVI Environmental Services, Inc., the new subcontractor, can decontaminate floors in blocks of two or three, but has chosen to do two, Emil said. Each two-floor block will take about 60 days to decontaminate. Through his spokesperson this week, Emil said a new block could be started every two or three weeks, which suggests the decontamination work could be done in just under eight months.

Emil originally said only three blocks would be worked on at the same time — and two of them would be only for the final or first few days of the decontamination work. He also said there would be a few days of preparation before the 60-day process could begin on each block. Under this work plan, which Emil subsequently amended, the dismantling of the building would not have resumed until the summer or fall of 2009.

Community and environmental groups successfully pressed the L.M.D.C. to complete the decontamination work before demolition resumes for safety reasons. Emil said another advantage to this new procedure is that without having to worry about contaminated materials on lower floors the deconstruction can be done more quickly without sacrificing safety.

A myriad of agencies will have to sign off on the deconstruction plan before it can begin. OSHA is likely to take more of a lead role in approving that than it did on the abatement plan, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the lead.

“By the time the building is being deconstructed, the relative roles of the agencies will shift,” Emil said. He does not foresee delays waiting for the demolition plan to be approved.

“I hope there is no work stoppage,” he added.

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