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Investigating the Fire
August 20th, 2007

As the city mourns and honors firefighters Robert Beddia and Joe Graffagnino in Saturdays 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 todays 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 todays 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 on August 20, 2007, 11:54 am
In category: Environment,Land Use,Waterfront | 3 Comments »

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3 Responses to “Investigating the Fire”

  1. Bklyn Politico Says:
    August 20th, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    good point about the number of violations

  2. Martin Zelnik Says:
    August 21st, 2007 at 11:48 am

    21 August 2007

    Dear Wonkster Editor-

    With respect to the problem with the standpipe connecting the Deutsche Bank, something does not make sense to me. Notwithstanding the fact that the building was presumably vacant, the NYC Fire Department requires that building standpipes be inspected and tested at least (perhaps even more) once a year by a licensed plumber. In addition, it is my understanding that the Fire Department-usually the fire company serving that block or neighborhood- has oversight over these inspections. The question is what oversight and what inspections were made by the Fire Department over the last several years. Did the owners (whoever the legal entity might beof the Deutsche Bank Building continue to have these inspections made or did they make a determination that it was not necessary?

    In addition, any building that has been “abandoned” and left vacant and unprotected is generally deemed an “Unsafe Building” by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). Were any such violations ever issued by the DOB?

    In short, there were at least two NYC government agencies that had oversight of the Deutsche Bank Building. I would urge Wonkster to carefully look into this situation from the point of view as to whether the NYC Fire Department and the NYC Department of Building might have failed to carry out their responsibilities, as well as the failure of the building ownership.

    Someone might want to actually request copies of all the required inspections if they, in fact, exist. Such a request might be made under a FOIA request.

    Sincerely,

    Martin Zelnik, Architect

    Panero Zelnik Architects
    architects-spaceplanners-interior designers
    242 West 27th Street
    Suite B-1
    New York, New York 10001
    Tel: 212/924-7930
    fax: 212/675-5838
    email: panzel1ATaol.com

  3. Nicci Says:
    August 22nd, 2007 at 11:01 am

    “Evan Thies, of Community Board 1 in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg, questioned why Guttman should get more building permits. If someone doesnt 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.”

    I wonder what the incident histories for Galt, Bovis and LMDC are? Are they the same as Gutman (relating to “owes so much in fines and has a long history of cutting corners and endangering lives”)? Has anyone looked into that aspect of this article?

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