Anger grows as Port races to meet deadline

By Julie Shapiro

As New Yorkers scramble for New Year’s Eve dinner reservations, the Port Authority is rushing to finish work in the eastern bathtub at the World Trade Center site.

With a matter of days left before the Dec. 31 deadline, the Port has kicked into high gear with 24-hour work, seven days a week. For the past several months, work had been 20 hours a day, six days a week.

“We are [going to make the deadline],” Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesperson, said on Dec. 26. “We’re working on it right now.” Coleman sounded less certain several days earlier, on Dec. 21, when he told Downtown Express, “We’re hopeful.”

If the Port does not turn the site for Towers 3 and 4 over to developer Silverstein Properties on time, the agency will pay a penalty of $300,000 a day. Anthony Shorris, the Port’s executive director, said last week that “our plan is to allow [Silverstein] to begin construction Jan. 2.”

Josh Rosenbloom, director of city operations for the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, fielded questions on the deadline at last Thursday’s Community Board 1 Quality of Life Committee meeting.

“It’s going to be very close,” Rosenbloom said. “It’s not certain.”

In the midst of the construction crunch, Christmas brought a brief reprieve to the sleep-deprived residents living in buildings near the Trade Center.

“It was weird — it was absolutely silent yesterday,” Andy Jurinko, a 125 Cedar St. resident, said on Dec. 26. “You could hear a pin drop. It makes you realize how much noise there usually is.”

From his window, Jurinko, a painter, watches the construction progress.

“The hole has become quite cavernous,” he said of the preparatory work at the tower sites. “You can start to see where things are going to go.”

Not all the construction workers had time for a Christmas break.

One worker, who was hauling black garbage bags off the site just before Christmas Eve, said he’d be working until late at night.

“It’s fine, though, it’s good,” he said, smiling. “It’s a lot of monies.”

Another worker, who looked exhausted, shrugged his shoulders when asked about the long hours.

“We need to keep going,” he said. “We’re working round the clock.”

Silverstein has a contract with Yonkers Contracting Company, Inc., to build the foundations for Towers 3 and 4, which are designed by Fumihiko Maki and Richard Rogers. The work will begin 85 feet below Church St., and the towers’ superstructure will rise about six months later, according to a previous press release. A spokesperson for Silverstein Properties declined to comment.

Downtown residents have not been able to escape the full-throttle construction effort.

Pat Moore, chairperson of the Quality of Life committee and Jurinko’s wife, first noticed the 24-hour-a-day work on Dec. 18.

“It’s led me to believe they’re not going to meet their deadline,” Moore said.

Jackhammering near the site on West St. awakened board member and Gateway Plaza resident Bill Love at 3 a.m., and he looked out his window to see the site bustling with work. When he got up again at 6 a.m., they were still going.

In response to the non-stop construction, C.B. 1’s World Trade Center Committee drafted a noise resolution earlier this month. Discussion of the resolution turned contentious during the full board meeting Dec. 18, after several people pointed out that the board has to choose between building deadlines and sleep.

The noise resolution calls on the Port Authority and the State Department of Transportation to keep all construction activity between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and to adopt last July’s New York City Noise Code. Neither agency is required to follow community board resolutions or city regulations.

“If you want it built, you’re going to have to put up with the noise,” board member Paul Sipos said after Love introduced the resolution.

“But people have to sleep,” Love said. “State D.O.T. is behind on their schedule — it’s not our fault that they’re behind.”

Jeff Galloway, a lawyer who deals with construction delay litigation, defended Sipos.

“If we say ‘Thou shalt not work after 10 p.m.,’ then we will not have this thing built [on time],” Galloway told the board. “The reason they work at night is not because they enjoy working at night.”

Julie Menin, chairperson of the board, brought up her suggestion that Port Authority add a double day shift to the World Trade Center site, to cut back on nighttime hours.

Galloway replied that while the Port “would love a double day shift” because workers’ wages are cheaper during the day, there is a limit to how many workers and how much equipment can physically fit in the space at one time.

Moore, whose Cedar St. apartment is inundated with construction noise and vibrations from the Trade Center, could barely sit still during the exchange.

“I’m apoplectic,” Moore said when Menin called on her. “I don’t care how long it takes [to finish the construction]. We do not sleep… They work whenever they feel like it.” Her voice unsteady, Moore continued: “You can’t live, you can’t sleep, it’s just not fair.”

Barry Skolnick, a W.T.C. Committee member, defended the committee’s unanimous decision in favor of the noise resolution. “We care about quality of life,” he said. “Deadlines don’t mean everything.”

Moore added that the committee was being reasonable by asking for 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and said even 11 p.m. would be fine — but she’s tired of hearing construction noise start as she goes to bed and continue into the predawn hours.

Galloway did not dismiss the quality of life concerns, but said the board has to realize that the resolution represents a decision that could have large implications.

“We can choose noise or time,” Galloway said. “We can’t have both.”

John Fratta, chairperson of the Seaport/Civic Center Committee, said “We have to have a balance between people who want to build buildings and people who need sleep,” drawing widespread applause from the board.

Despite the back-and-forth arguments, the board came together and voted unanimously in favor of the noise resolution.

Paul Hovitz, outgoing chairperson of the Youth and Education Committee, got in the last word.

“We need to support live residents as opposed to deadlines,” he quipped.

With reporting by Josh Rogers