Volume 21, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 16 - 22, 2009

Ground zero construction work to get more review

The Port Authority is taking a step toward transparency by making the inspections of its buildings public.

Critics of the Port have long charged the bi-state agency with being above the law because its buildings, including at the World Trade Center site, are not subject to the city’s codes. Chris Ward, the Port’s executive director, has promised the public that the Port’s buildings are in compliance — but now, the public will be able to see that for themselves, he said.

“This goes beyond the law and regulations,” Ward said at a press conference last week. “This is about public trust.”

The city Buildings Dept. does inspections of the site and the Port Authority will release an annual report showing how it measured up in complying with the various codes. The first report will be released in the next couple of months. The Port will also launch a Web site of compliance reports going back to 1999.

“Community Board 1 has been supporting and asking for this for a long time,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of the board’s W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee. “[The Port Authority] is working very hard to become a good neighbor.”

But Sally Regenhard, head of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, said the annual report is mere “window dressing.”

“The bottom line is that the Port Authority remains exempt and immune from all building and fire codes,” said Regenhard, whose son was killed on 9/11. “Is it good that inspections will be posted online once a year? It’s better than them never being posted. But if this is transparency, it’s ludicrous. It’s practically meaningless.”

Asked why the Port won’t post information about compliance more frequently, as the city Buildings Dept. does, Ward said his agency has too many facilities that are subject to too many different codes on the city, state and federal levels. He later told Downtown Express that information about accidents at the Trade Center would be posted on the Port’s Web site (wtcprogress.com) weekly, so the public would not have to wait for an annual report to learn about them.

“Our Web site will be updated on a weekly basis so people will know very quickly” of incidents, he said.

Ward announced the decision to publicize the inspection records last week with Borough President Scott Stringer, who has advocated for other groups, like the United Nations, to do the same. Joseph Graffagnino Sr., whose son was killed in the 2007 Deutsche Bank fire, agreed with Stringer.

“This is a major step forward,” Graffagnino said. “The Port Authority is one of the biggest landlords. If they’re willing to comply, what are you holding back for?”

— Julie Shapiro




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