Investigating the Fire
August 20th, 2007
As the city mourns and honors firefighters Robert Beddia and Joe Graffagnino in Saturday’s fire at the Deutsche Bank building, many are examining the circumstances of their death and wondering how the tragedy could have been avoided.
“There is too much to mourn and too much to rage about in the deaths,” the Daily News writes in an editorial today. The paper recites the litany of woes at the building: contamination with asbestos and other hazardous substances, fights over insurance and the cost of the demolition, the discovery of human remains. And then, when demolition began, workers labored behind plastic shrouding, using torches and apparently smoking, while the standpipe needed to bring water to upper floors in case of emergency sat useless with a broken valve. The News writes, “The Deutsche Bank building has for too long been a symbol of official incompetence.”
Or worse. In an account of the investigation in today’s Times, Al Baker relates that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation hired Bovis Lend Lease to handle the demolition. It in turn hired John Galt Corp., which among other tasks, had responsibility for maintaining the standpipe. According to Baker, Galt had racked up $67,500 in fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – an agency not renowned for toughness in the Bush era. One came from “an incident on May 17 when a 22-foot metal pipe fell from the 35th floor through the roof of a firehouse across the street, halting work for about a week.” Another, the Times said, arose from a scaffolding collapse.
For now, Galt is refusing comment, Bovis says Galt did the job, and Errol Cockfield, a spokesperson for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which owns the building has said, “The LMDC coordinates with the contractor and its subcontractors every day. The LMDC has a subsidiary called the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, and they are on the project every day.”
It is far too soon to known whether anyone will be held accountable for what the News calls the “murderous misfeasance” on Liberty Street. But given litany of construction accidents in this city, there is reason for skepticism.
One need only look at today’s Post, which reports that developer Joshua Guttman and his family are moving full speed ahead on new projects despite owing the city at least $59,000 in unpaid Department of Buildings fines and more than $52,000 in outstanding property taxes, and facing $4.7 million in fines for failing to maintain piers and bulkheads on his property on the Greenpoint waterfront. Guttman owns the Greenpoint Terminal Market, which burned down – suspiciously in the eyes of some observers – last year. Guttman reportedly has made no efforts to repair the site since.
Evan Thies, of Community Board 1 in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg, questioned why Guttman should get more building permits. “If someone doesn’t pay tickets for running red lights in this city, they lose their driving rights, so why is he being allowed to build when he owes so much in fines and has a long history of cutting corners and endangering lives?” Thies asked the Post.
Interesting question and one that, in a slightly altered form, might someday be asked about Galt, Bovis – and the LMDC.By Gail Robinson on August 20, 2007, 11:54 am
In category: Environment, Land Use, Waterfront | 3 Comments »