Rebuilding Roundup Archive: July 2004

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Rebuilding Roundup for Friday, July 30

The Bush administration agreed yesterday to use $2 billion in federal funds to build a rail link between lower Manhattan, JFK airport, and the Long Island Railroad. The money will come from unused portions of the Liberty Bond program, a multibillion dollar tax incentive program put in place after 9/11 of which about $5 billion remains unused. The document detailing the plan to provide the money does not explicitly call for it to be used for the rail link -- it sets aside funds for non-specific "transportation infrastructure" in New York -- but both the governor and the mayor have said that the money will be used for the rail link. The White House proposal still has to make it through Congress, which some predict will not be easy.

The 9/11 Commission announced last weekend that it intended to make its report an election-year issue. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry did just that last night when he said, during his acceptance of the Democratic nomination for president, that he would immediately implement every one of the commission's recommendations. Kerry has also called for the work of the commission to be extended for 18 months to keep pressure on officials. The commission itself is looking for private funding to continue its work past August 26, when federal funding comes to a close. For his part, President Bush has created a working group to examine which of the proposals he will endorse, and the first Senate hearings on the report will take place today, but some say there is not enough time left in the legislative session to pass the report's more ambitious recommendations.

Air pollution from September 11 will probably not cause cancer, according to a new study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. The World Trade Center collapse released cancer-causing chemicals into the air, but the levels decreased quickly enough to avoid cancer risk, the report said. This study is the first to track the presence of sooty particles small enough to enter the bloodstream. These chemicals -- a form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon -- have been linked to lung, skin and bladder cancer. Cancer is not the only health risk posed by 9/11 though, scientists noted. The collapse of the towers may yet have other effects, including pregnancy complications for downtown residents.

Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond trading company that lost 658 members of its staff on September 11, has found a new home in midtown. Early next year, it will move into a space on 59th street and Park Avenue. Cantor Fitzgerald has been negotiating a move for years, and has clashed with city and state officials over subsidies. Eventually, the company settled on a plan to receive about $30 million in cash grants from the federal and state governments. After moving, Cantor Fitzgerald plans to add about 200 employees to its workforce, but it will still fewer employees than it did pre-9/11.

Rebuilding Roundup for Friday, July 23

The federal commission investigating the 9/11 attacks published a 567-page final report yesterday, in which it described New York's emergency response planning on September 11, 2001 as inadequate, but lauded the personal bravery of those who improvised a rescue on the scene. Despite its harsh criticism, the commission said the rescue was generally a success, saving most of those below the floors where the planes struck. It also said that New York was still at risk of large-scale attack, and called on the Department of Homeland Security to rework its funding plans to direct more money towards high-threat areas. That money, however, should only be granted to cities that have trained their emergency response agencies to work together, said the commission. It described New York's system as "fall[ing] short of an optimal response plan."

The commission also criticized the national intelligence system. The attacks, it said, "were a shock but they should not have come as a surprise." The report's major proposal was the creation of a cabinet level intelligence director within the White House who would control the budgets of all 15 federal intelligence agencies. This would take away power from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, both of which were criticized harshly in the report. The report did avoid, however, singling out either the Bush or the Clinton administrations for blame. Now that their investigation is over, the commissioners have said that they will actively lobby the federal government to see that their recommendations are implemented.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler is worried that contaminants in the Deutsche Bank building across from ground zero pose a threat to residents. The building, which is slated to be destroyed, contains contaminants on every floor. These include asbestos, dioxins, lead, and mercury, much of which was blown into the building during the collapse of the Twin Towers. Nadler says that there is no acknowledgement of the risk these contaminants pose in the demolition plan; Kevin Rampe, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation accused the congressman of "political grandstanding of the worst kind."

Governor Pataki said for the first time last week that he was open to scrapping the idea to bury a portion of West Street. Pataki has been a champion of the $860 million project, which has raised opposition from community members. The executive committee of Community Board 1, which contains the portion of West Street to be buried, voted against the plan, recommending instead for a $175 million renovation of the pedestrian access to the street in its current location. Pataki said that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation would make the final decision.

Rebuilding Roundup for Friday, July 16

Daniel Libeskind, the master planner for ground zero, sued Larry Silverstein, the site's developer, this week. The action lays bare the tensions among those involved in the World Trade Center site project, which officials have long been trying to play down. Libeskind is demanding a $843,750 "genius fee" for his work on the Freedom Tower; Silverstein is offering $225,000. Libeskind, with his wife and business partner, is accusing Silverstein of subverting the public process for financial gain, and of withholding Libeskind's pay as a way of taking revenge for the conflict over the design of the Freedom Tower. The lawsuit will probably not affect the progress of the building itself, but it will further strain the relationship of two men who will likely be working together for the next decade.

With few tenants lining up to move into the offices at the Freedom tower, Citigroup opened up more space downtown, by announcing that it will move 1,700 employees out of the area. Of those, 1,000 are headed for New Jersey, and the rest to Long Island City. Though the company insists that it will actually be increasing the number of employees it has in the city in the long term, Citigroup's move from lower Manhattan shows the continued difficulty that lower Manhattan is having in maintaining its nature as commercial real estate district. JP Morgan Chase is also moving out of office space downtown, where the vacancy rate is already 14.2 percent. Meanwhile, 730 state employees are preparing to move downtown.

The 9/11 Commission is putting the finishing touches on its final report, which will reportedly be released at least several days before the June 26 deadline. When the report is made public, it will be sold in bookstores and available over the internet. There will also be briefings for relatives of the victims in Washington DC. Alongside 9/11 families, New York Senator Chuck Schumer is lobbying to have briefings in New York City as well.

Rebuilding Roundup for Friday, July 9

Construction at Ground Zero officially began July 4, when Governor George Pataki presided over the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone for the Freedom Tower. The stone, a 20-ton granite slab from upstate New York, was inscribed with a tribute to those who died on 9/11. At about 65 feet below street level, the cornerstone is barely visible to the public, but that hasn't kept people from flocking to the site to catch even a slight glimpse. On Monday, workers began stabilizing the slurry wall, the first of major construction task on site. The Freedom Tower is slated to be completed in 2009, with all construction finished by 2015.

But the outcome of the project is as uncertain as ever. It is not clear what the Freedom Tower will look like when it is finished, nor whether the other buildings planned for the site will be built at all. Some have criticized the groundbreaking ceremony as mere political theater. Other critics believe the process is moving too fast. Preservationists complain that development has sacrificed the historic value of the World Trade Center site for speed; residents are concerned by the environmental and health risks that accompany construction; and those who advocate the rebuilding of the original Twin Towers continue to present their own plan. Several lawsuits that could hold up development are in the works.

Given the uncertainty of the site's future, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation board conceded yesterday that it may have to rework its funding strategy. The corporation has used a good deal of its resources encouraging smaller projects; just yesterday it set aside $3.5 million give the "Tribute in Light" five more years of guaranteed funding. But rebuilding officials also stressed the need to concentrate more on ground zero itself. This should be encouraging to Larry Silverstein, the developer who owns the rights to the site. Silverstein, who many believe will not be able to pay for development, has asked that the remaining $3.5 billion in low-interest Liberty Bonds be used to help build the planned towers for the site.

Rebuilding Roundup for Friday, July 2

New York lost 143,000 jobs a month, and $2.8 billion in lost wages in the three months after 9/11, according to a federal report published this week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics study examined the specifics of what is widely known already -- that 9/11 sent New York into deep recession. It examined the impacts of the attacks on a borough-by-borough basis, finding, for example, the extent that Queens suffered because of the drop in airline travel. The study also showed the vulnerability caused by the city's reliance on a single industry; almost 70 percent of the lost jobs were in fields like finance, insurance, and banking.

Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg would like to see $5 billion in tax credits converted to cash and used to help fund the proposed rail link from lower Manhattan to the Long Island Railroad and JFK international airport. The tax credits are part of the $21 billion package of post 9/11 federal aid to the city, but it seems that much of the money will go unspent if it is not redirected. The credits have drawn criticism since their inception, from those who said that a direct cash infusion would have been more helpful. Aides to Pataki say the governor hopes to get as much as $2 billion to pay for the $6 billion rail project.

Bloomberg also met with Vice President Dick Cheney to ask for help directing more federal anti-terror money towards New York, and said that Cheney "understood and probably even agrees" that New York City is getting shortchanged on funding. Meanwhile, Scott Stringer, a State Assembly Member from Manhattan criticized Governor Pataki for redirecting as much as $19 million in homeland security funds from the city to the suburbs. Stringer recently introduced legislation that would require that all federal funds given to New York State for its high-risk areas be directed to New York, Albany or Buffalo.

The Governor will be coming to the city for July 4, where he will attend the official beginning of construction at Ground Zero. The cornerstone for the Freedom Tower, which arrived at Ground Zero yesterday, will be laid at 10 AM on Sunday. Originally, this event was rumored to have been scheduled for the Republican National Convention. The hostility that met that plan highlighted the political risk the Republicans run if they incorporate Ground Zero into August's convention. George Bush's campaign manager acknowledged that risk this week: he said that the president will not visit Ground Zero during the convention.


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