Volume 16 • Issue 38 | February 20 - 26, 2004




Construction concerns at the W.T.C.

By Elizabeth O’Brien

As residents asked the government for more time and information before construction begins on the World Trade Center site, the business community urged that rebuilding start immediately to hasten Lower Manhattan’s economic recovery.

Many residents, business leaders and politicians have called for balance in the rebuilding process. But as Downtowners digested the 2,000-page study on World Trade Center redevelopment released by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, it became clear that some favored a quicker pace than others.

Community members spoke about the study, called the draft generic environmental impact statement, or d.g.e.i.s., at two public forums held on Feb. 18 at Pace University. More than 100 people attended the afternoon session, and 60 people testified at that session.

“The d.g.e.i.s. is a major step toward a revitalized Lower Manhattan, but I do want to emphasize the importance of moving construction of the site forward as rapidly as possible,” said Jen Hensley, director of intergovernmental and community affairs for the Downtown Alliance, which runs a business improvement district.

Construction workers also came out in force to spur the process.

“The time has come to cut through the red tape and start rebuilding the site,” said Joseph Llanos, a member of the electrician’s union Local 3 I.B.E.W. who said builders would mitigate the effects of large-scale construction on the surrounding neighborhood.

Residents criticized the L.M.D.C., a city-state agency, for failing to fully consider the cumulative impact of the many large construction projects that will take place in and around the 16-acre World Trade Center site within the next decade. They voiced concerns about the noise and pollution that the rebuilding will bring, as well as the lack of open space in the site plan.

Caroline Martin, a Tribeca resident, called the environmental impact study “rushed” and “inaccurate.” Like many residents, she said the study should have taken into account the demolition both of Fiterman Hall, a Borough of Manhattan Community College classroom building that was heavily damaged in the trade center collapse, and of the Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St.

Irene Chang, counsel for the L.M.D.C., said the study could not address the Deutsche Bank situation because the mediation between the company and its insurers, currently being brokered by George Mitchell, is confidential. An L.M.D.C. spokesperson confirmed the draft generic environmental impact statement assumes that the Deutsche Bank site has been annexed, however.

Residents called for a number of provisions that would ease the effects of construction on the neighborhood. They recommended that the use of ultra-low-sulfur fuel on the site’s construction equipment be extended to all contracts, including those with Con Edison and Verizon. Community members also called for strict enforcement of the city’s anti-idling law, which prohibits buses from idling while parked for more than three minutes.

Special care must be taken to protect residents who have alread been exposed to 9/11 contaminants, some experts said.

“The population around the World Trade Center is an especially susceptible population,” said George Thurston, an associate professor in the department of environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine. He said adverse health reactions increase proportionately with increasing pollution, and called for the L.M.D.C. to go beyond simply mitigating effects. For example, the corporation could make a large-scale change by converting all buses on the site to natural gas fuel, Thurston suggested.

While the environmental impact study did not predict any “significant adverse air quality impacts” in 2009, when the first phase of construction is scheduled to end, or in 2015, when the whole project is slated for completion, L.M.D.C. officials and consultants have acknowledged the peak construction year of 2006 will bring increased noise and air quality issues.

“I would just suggest that anyone who’s looking for a long vacation, take it in 2006,” said Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1 and an L.M.D.C. board member, at the monthly full board meeting of C.B. 1 last week.

Community Board 1 passed a 10-page resolution on the draft generic environmental impact statement, in which members made recommendations in 10 categories including the environment and construction. In the latter category, the community called for the creation of a Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center to coordinate construction projects and ensure that schedules are arranged to minimize disruption. They also requested that an L.M.D.C. representative be available on-site 24 hours a day.

At a meeting last week, L.M.D.C. officials said they were investigating whether a command center would be possible. Gov. George Pataki first called for such a center last October.

Community Board 1 also asked the L.M.D.C. to clarify the corporation’s assumptions about open space on the World Trade Center site. L.M.D.C. officials have said the site plan provides for 5.5 acres of new open space.

However, an urban planner at the Feb. 18 hearing called that figure incorrect. Diane Dreyfus said the redeveloped World Trade Center site represented a net loss of open space compared with the pre-9/11 configuration and stated there was a 13 percent error in the amount of open space the L.M.D.C. predicted for the site. She said when she converted the open space square footage listed on d.g.e.i.s. charts to acres it did not match the L.M.D.C. acreage claims.

“The things that are called parks in the World Trade Center plan are merely sidewalks with fancy names,” Dreyfus said.

William Kelley, the L.M.D.C.’s planning project manager, said sidewalks are not included in the W.T.C. open space figures. L.M.D.C. officials did not return a request for comment on the open space acreage estimates by press time.

C.B. 1 criticized the environmental impact statement for failing to gauge the full effect of delivery truck, commuter bus and tour bus traffic. Jen Hensley, the Downtown Alliance worker who also serves as a C.B. 1 member, said at the Feb. 18 hearing that the Alliance is concerned the number of tour buses visiting the site could be greater than expected. The L.M.D.C. and the Port Authority has said that 100 tour bus spaces are necessary at the site.

Public comment on the draft generic environmental impact statement will be accepted until 5:00 p.m. until March 15. A final generic environmental impact statement will be prepared in April, an L.M.D.C. official said, and the public will have another chance to comment on that.


Elizabeth@DowntownExpress.com


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