Volume 17, Number 40 | February 25 - March 3, 2005

Deutsche demo delayed till summer

Ronda Kaysen

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation expects to begin deconstructing the former Deutsche Bank building this summer, Kevin Rampe, the corporation’s president, said at a City Council hearing last week.

Last November, Governor George E. Pataki said deconstruction on the Sept. 11-damaged building at 130 Liberty St. would begin in December, a start date that has endured a series of setbacks since the corporation purchased the building last August with the intention of taking it down.

Rampe expects the cleanup and deconstruction process — once it begins — to take longer than original L.M.D.C. predictions, which estimated in September that the 40-story building would be completely dismantled within 2005.

“I would imagine it would take longer because of the level of contaminants that we found through the tests,” he told Downtown Express after the hearing of the Select Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment. Any specific timelines for either the initial cleanup phase or the entire deconstruction would be “wildly speculating,” he added.

Earlier this month, following on the heels of a Jan. 31 report from the Environmental Protection Agency calling for sweeping revisions to the corporation’s plans, L.M.D.C. announced it was seeking an additional $45 million for the cleanup.

Throughout the cleanup planning process, the corporation has maintained its commitment to a “transparent” review process.

Transparency has its drawbacks, Rampe told the panel at the Feb. 17 hearing. “The public is going to see that process and sometimes it’s going to be ugly,” he said. “What we want to be judged on is the ultimate plan.”

The lengthy planning process will result in a cleanup that will not re-contaminate the beleaguered neighborhood, he insisted.

“I can think of no issue that’s more important to the Lower Manhattan community than… ensuring that people who work here and live here can be confident that the government agencies are looking out for their interests in terms of the air quality and environmental quality,” he said. The 1.4 million sq. ft. building is contaminated with asbestos, mercury, lead, dioxin and other toxins.

L.M.D.C. told the panel that it would not seek exemptions from the stringent environmental regulations, a commitment that pleased committee chair Alan Gerson, whose district includes the W.T.C. site.

“I was impressed that Kevin Rampe came himself,” he told Downtown Express in a telephone interview. “I think that signifies an important level of cooperation at the highest levels of L.M.D.C. to work with the community on this.”

The E.P.A. will continue to play a lead role in ensuring the building is dismantled in an environmentally sound way, Pat Evangelista, W.T.C. coordinator for the E.P.A., told the panel, responding to longstanding questions about the agency’s role in the deconstruction.

“Normally we wouldn’t take such an active role in a building deconstruction,” he said, noting that the W.T.C. disaster created an environmentally unique demolition condition. A lead role, he said, involves coordinating with other regulatory agencies and reviewing and approving demolition and cleanup plans for the various buildings.

The agency did not, however, commit to leading the oversight of the demolition process itself nor did it or the L.M.D.C. indicate which agency would take the lead should any problem arise, a commitment Gerson hopes the agency will make.

“The E.P.A. needs to make the same commitment to oversight of the actual process on the ground as these buildings come down,” he said later in a telephone interview. “When you have so many different governmental agencies [working together] things tend to slip through the cracks unless you have a clear chain of command or letter of agreement setting forth exactly what agency is responsible for what.”

Despite E.P.A. reassurances, committee members raised doubts about the agency’s consistency. “We have an experience with you in which you lied to us. Information was given to us that was false,” said City Councilmember Margarita Lopez, referring to a 2003 report released by the agency’s independent inspector general judging the E.P.A. acted without sufficient evidence when it declared the air Downtown safe to breathe one week after the World Trade Center collapse. In 2002, the agency instituted a residential cleanup program that many Downtowners deemed poorly designed and run.

“How is it that you specifically are going to be in charge of this? How do we know that you are going to make sure that companies hired to do this job are not going to be lying to us?” she asked.

Gerson asked Evangelista if the agency had a new or revised strategy for its dealings with the neighborhood. When the coordinator replied, “Absolutely not,” Gerson said, “I was hoping for a different answer.”

The agency intends “take an active role” in the upcoming demolition of the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Fiterman Hall, also badly damaged on 9/11, said Evangelista.

The agency also reviewed Deutsche Bank’s demolition plans for 4 Albany St., which is currently being cleaned in preparation for a demolition, although it did not approve the plans.


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