By THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 9, 2008
David W. Dunlap, a metropolitan reporter for The Times, answered readers’ questions this week about the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site and about New York City’s built environment.
First, let me acknowledge that many of your questions and comments have concerned timetables, budgets, responsibility and/or culpability, a revival of the twin tower plan and the overall status of redevelopment efforts. I promise that I’m not ducking these. Rather, I’m waiting until the end of the week to answer them as comprehensively as I can. Meanwhile, here are some of the more tightly focused inquiries, with what I hope are helpful replies. — D.W.D.
Since the Port Authority lacks any meaningful oversight, does anyone have any responsibility to quality control at the huge World Trade Center site? Given the governor’s announcement that the dates set for completion of the memorial were bogus, I can’t help wondering if anyone is in the position to independently monitor what is going on. Obviously there are serious problems with government inspections, so who is watching? And how reliable are they?
— Posted by Kristen
Many people are watching, Kristen. Whether enough people are watching — or watching for the right things — is harder to answer. (Obviously, oversight was not enough to prevent a fire in the former Deutsche Bank building last year that killed two firefighters.) What I can tell you from personal experience is that I’ve been very conscious during my visits to ground zero of the presence of safety inspectors there.
The Federal Transportation Agency reviews design documents for federally financed projects like the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. The Fire Department inspects the site once every two weeks. Insurance companies have their own safety inspectors.
But much of the monitoring, as you suggest, is internal. For instance, it is the Port Authority’s engineering quality assurance section — not the city’s Department of Buildings — that reviews architectural and engineering plans. The authority agreed in 2004 that it “will comply with all applicable building code requirements” for ”all construction work to be performed by the Port Authority or any of its net lessees” at the World Trade Center site. The authority says its examiners “frequently consult with their counterparts” in the Department of Buildings.
Critics, including the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, say this is not good enough. They contend that the authority ought to be bound by the city code.
The authority says it has more than 80 construction inspectors assigned to the trade center site, who are on duty whenever any work is being performed. Its risk-management unit has its own inspectors, concerned with site safety and environmental hazards. Monitors from the authority’s office of the inspector general are also looking for evidence of waste, fraud and abuse.
But the deadline enforcers? They’re far higher up on the governmental food chain.
You mentioned in previous communication that the mayor’s command center — which was previously and controversially located in the World Trade Center before its destruction — will no longer be located there when all the construction is finished. Can you please fill in the details for us.
— Posted by David Blaustein
The command center built during the Giuliani administration was on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, across Vesey Street from the main complex. For a number of reasons, including the storage in the building of diesel fuel for emergency generators, the center’s location was, indeed, controversial. Even the Police Department seems to have opposed it.
The new Emergency Operations Center opened in 2006 at 165 Cadman Plaza East in downtown Brooklyn. It, too, was controversial. Some neighbors worried — among other things — that the center’s presence, not far from the Brooklyn Bridge, would make the entire area more vulnerable to terror attacks.
Joshua asks a related question:
How many of the new buildings will have petroleum or heating oil on the premises (and in the immediate underground)?
— Posted by Joshua
Alan Reiss of the Port Authority, the deputy director of World Trade Center construction, answered this question: “All of the facilities will use steam for heating but it is contemplated that every facility, memorial, hub, office towers will also have emergency generators to comply with code requirements for life-safety needs and have fuel oil storage tank located in the basement, typically lowest level, in accordance with building codes in a fire-rated room. Seven World Trade Center did not have a basement.”
What process do we taxpayers have to activate to disband the Port Authority before it does any more damage at the World Trade Center site and beyond? Will a referendum do the trick?
— Posted by Michael Balton
For better or worse, Mr. Balton, I believe it would be a lot more complicated than that. Begin with the fact that the authority is a bistate creature, so taxpayers on both sides of the Hudson would have to agree on the need for its abolition and then persuade their elected officials to enact what I assume would have to be identical legislation doing so. Congressional approval might even be required, since the authority was created through a bistate compact. Then you’d have to find some entity that was able to assume the authority’s $12 billion indebtedness and also take responsibility for running bridges and tunnels that cross state lines. In other words, you’d have your work cut out for you.
Has PANYNJ given any thought to using eminent domain to seize the land on which the Greek Orthodox church lies? This seems like a paradigmatic place for eminent domain, especially since the historic building itself was destroyed by the south tower. Seizing the property should speed development and cut costs significantly, one would imagine.
— Posted by AK
Even at the height of urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s, when bulldozers were applied liberally to solve construction problems, agencies were loath to tangle with religious institutions, for obvious constitutional reasons. The prospect of “Government Seizes Church Property” headlines is just not politically palatable. (A tangible — and enriching — vestige of that is the presence within otherwise stark housing projects of lovely old houses of worship.)
Mr. Reiss says the authority never considered that it would be “viable” to condemn the property held by St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church just south of the main site, though negotiations have clearly been vexing for both sides.
The situation at the WTC PATH station is extremely uncomfortable, unsafe and delay-inducing for thousands of commuters and workers. The repositioning of the entrance of the supposedly temporary station from Church Street to Vesey Street has led to longer commutes (because now station transfers and trips to offices require an extra several blocks of walking) and very crowded (really unsafe) conditions on Vesey (because of the shunting of thousands of PATH users and office workers to the narrow strip that is what is left of Vesey). Does the PA acknowledge that this situation, er, stinks, and is there any plan to do anything about this before the next solar eclipse?
— Posted by Eric W.
Mr. Reiss does not exactly use the word “stink” in his reply, though he acknowledged the problem and said the authority is exploring alternatives. However, he also cautioned:
“There is nothing that can be done in the near term due to the congested nature of the 16 acre site and public safety. Our overarching goal was to keep PATH operating while rebuilding the site and station around an operating railroad. We have worked with New York City Department of Transportation and extended the crosswalk time on Church and Vesey after the station opened, which has made a difference, and added laborers and traffic enforcement agents to assist pedestrians crossing, and widened the east side of Church Street sidewalk.”
Which agencies (federal, state, city or otherwise) are currently confirmed to be located in the new buildings?
— Posted by John
The roster at the moment is as follows, with the real-estate deals themselves at various stages:
The federal General Services Administration expects to lease about 645,000 square feet in 1 World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, which the Port Authority is building.
The state Office of General Services expects to lease about 412,000 square feet in 1 World Trade Center.
The China Center expects to lease 190,000 square feet in 1 World Trade Center.
The Port Authority expects to lease about 600,000 square feet in Tower 4, or 150 Greenwich Street, which is being built by Silverstein Properties, the original commercial leaseholder on the site.
New York City also has an agreement to lease about 600,000 square feet in Tower 4.
It has not passed without notice that this government-heavy tenant roll recalls the arrangement at the original World Trade Center, which was starved at first for private tenants.
What are the chances that the bellicose use of the word Freedom in the name of the largest building will be dropped in favor of 1 World Trade Center?
— Posted by John Weiser
The chance of anyone in government publicly jettisoning a “Freedom” sobriquet is less than remote. But since the departure of Gov. George E. Pataki, a quiet shift has been discernible in formal usage. The Port Authority now speaks of “1 World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower.” Though Mr. Pataki remains attached to the name, I think you can expect to find it growing more and more vestigial. Just don’t hold your breath for an official announcement.