Volume 17 • Issue 17 | SEPTEMBER 17 - 23, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Pedestrians walk by the shrouded Deutsche Bank building.

Public process to dismantle Deutsche building begins

By Ronda Kaysen

Following the release of a new environmental study confirming high levels of contaminants in the badly damaged former Deutsche Bank building opposite the World Trade Center, the Lower Manhattan Development Center announced plans to begin the building’s deconstruction sometime in November, although the specifics of how the building will come down — and how residents and workers will be protected — remain to be seen.

In what the L.M.D.C. called a transparent process, consultants hired by the L.M.D.C. presented the study findings at a Sept. 14 Community Board 1 meeting. Cautiously optimistic, local residents expressed an array of concerns regarding their health and safety.

True to expectations, the Louis Berger Group, an engineering and environmental consulting firm in East Orange, N.J., found high levels of contaminants throughout the building. In addition to excessive asbestos contamination in 24 of the 31 floors sampled, Louis Berger found presence of dioxin, lead, quartz, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chromium and manganese in the dust samples. Mold was found on five floors. “The inspection didn’t look in every nook and cranny because the L.M.D.C. didn’t own the building,” said Berger’s Tom Lewis. Now that L.M.D.C. owns the building, more invasive tests can begin.

L.M.D.C. purchased the property on Aug. 31 following a court battle between Deutsche Bank and its insurers, Allianz Global Risks U.S. Insurance Company and AXA Corporate Solutions Insurance Company. The dispute was not resolved until Governor George Pataki tapped former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to settle the matter. In the agreement, L.M.D.C. acquired the property for $90 million and will pay up to $45 million for cleanup and dismantling; the insurers will pay any exceeding costs, which are likely. The sale allows for the expansion of the World Trade Center site to allow for more park space and less office density.

L.M.D.C. plans to deconstruct the building in a two-phase process with the help of six different consulting firms. The Gilbane Building Company will steer the deconstruction process. The building will first be cleaned and decontaminated and then dismantled piecemeal. How the process will take place — whether the building will be completely cleaned before it is dismantled, or cleaned as it comes down — has yet to be decided. “We are very interested in moving forward with this project,” said Amy Peterson, the corporation’s vice president for memorial, cultural and civic development. “We have a real interest in removing this building.”

At this point, many local residents are taking the L.M.D.C. at its word that it will keep them abreast of future developments. “I have to trust that what they say is true,” Pat Moore, a 28-year resident of 125 Cedar St., said after the meeting. Her building sits 100 feet from the former Deutsche Bank building. “They say they’re going to do additional testing, so I hope they will be forthcoming with their results.”

Moore, a C.B. 1 member, is worried about evacuation procedures. “I’m really concerned about having some emergency plan in place if something falls off the building, if a crane falls down. I really want to know that they have some system to warn us and evacuate us,” she said. “I’ve literally had anxiety attacks about that black mesh falling on me and suffocating me. And now I’m terrified about having something falling off that building.”

Peterson said at Tuesday night’s meeting that although a plan has yet to be laid out, the L.M.D.C. intends to reach out to the city’s Office of Emergency Management to establish one. Kate Millea, the project manager at L.M.D.C., provided a 24-hour hotline number, 917-715-6790, for concerned residents.

When board member Catherine Hughes said she heard the plan was to start the project on Nov. 1, Peterson did not object. With deconstruction plans scheduled for public release sometime after Oct. 13, the work schedule appears overly ambitious to some. “I have never heard of six agencies working together in a year to complete a deconstruction,” said Pearl Scher, a C.B. 1 member.

Peterson was quick to reply. “We’re confident that we can go to the regulators and get this done quickly,” she said.

Joanna Rose, a spokesperson for the L.M.D.C., said afterwards that the deconstruction would most likely not begin until mid to late November.

Many residents voiced concern saying it was unprecedented to take down such a large contaminated building in a city. “A demolition of such a contaminated building in such a densely populated area has never been done before,” Catherine Hughes told Downtown Express.

Steve Kass, L.M.D.C.’s environmental counsel from Carter Ledyard and Milburn, argued that government oversight would assure a safe process. “It is our expectation and intention to comply with all legal requirements. We need approval from the E.P.A. and other agencies have been looking over our shoulders very carefully,” he said. “…What is unique about this project is not either the decontamination or deconstruction, but the extraordinary level of public scrutiny, reporting and transparency at every phase.”

Lewis of Berger sited an example of a successful dismantling project of a nuclear reactor located alongside a hospital and of other buildings in New York City being dismantled. “If you break [a project] into bite-sized pieces, it becomes much more manageable,” he said. He did not, however, note an example of a highly contaminated building ever being dismantled in a densely populated area.

The L.M.D.C.’s selection of experts satisfies Steven Abramson, a 114 Liberty St. resident. “The most reassuring [component of the L.M.D.C.’s plan] is the fact that Ambient is going to do it,” he said. The Ambient Group, an environmental and water treatment consulting company, was hired by L.M.D.C. to monitor air quality. The residents of 114 Liberty St., which was badly contaminated on 9/11, hired Ambient as a consultant. Abramson and his family moved back into their apartment two weeks ago, one of the last families to return to their homes. “Ambient will not tolerate a faulty job. If there’s a problem, they’re going to say it,” he added.

There will be a public information session on Sept. 23 at 5:00 p.m. at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers St., followed by an open public comment period, which will run until Oct. 13. The development corporation will unveil the deconstruction details sometime after the end of the public comment period and begin work in November. The building will be completely dismantled sometime in 2005, according to the L.M.D.C.

For now, residents are hoping that fear — if nothing else — will keep the L.M.D.C. transparent. “If the L.M.D.C. doesn’t do this properly and they re-contaminate Downtown, that would be a major catastrophe and they would never be able to cover it up,” said Abramson. “[The project] is too visible at this point. They’ll have the press all over them and they know it.”


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