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Metro-North fire in Harlem spurs new rules for NYC property under rails

The Metro-North fire in East Harlem on May

The Metro-North fire in East Harlem on May 17, 2016, pictured, was determined by FDNY officials to have been caused by an accidental fuel spill. Photo Credit: FDNY via Twitter

The city will begin regular safety sweeps at city-owned property near elevated rail lines following the East Harlem fire that severely impacted Metro-North service last week.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that the New York City Economic Development Corporation will more closely inspect the dozen properties it oversees under elevated roads and rails to ensure the infrastructure is not jeopardized.

The move comes after FDNY officials determined that the May 17 fire at the Urban Garden Center, located under Metro-North tracks at Park Avenue and 118th Street, was caused by an accidental fuel spill. The garden shop had been storing quantities of gasoline and propane tanks without proper FDNY permits.

“The city has taken swift and strong action, and we’re doing all we can to prevent incidents like this from happening again,” said de Blasio in a statement. “We are ramping up inspections in the affected area and reviewing sites under critical infrastructure citywide to ensure New Yorkers’ safety and peace of mind.”

The Urban Garden Center is part of La Marqueta, the historic East Harlem marketplace that the city has recently begun reviving. The mayor said that the center, a tenant of the NYCEDC, did not have permission to store the flammable material on its property.

Following an FDNY investigation, the center was issued four summonses for unlawful storage, handling and use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG); unlawful use of LPG for space heating; unlawful storage of gasoline in quantities requiring a permit; and unlawful storage of portable fueled equipment.

The NYCEDC said it will be amending its lease with the center to allow for the agency to “enter at any time if an emergency or a need to inspect or conduct repairs exists, and the MTA may enter at any time if the agency has a need to inspect or conduct repairs to MTA property,” according to a press release.

FDNY will inspect the Urban Garden Center at least once a month until further notice, according to the mayor’s office. NYCEDC will expand its existing inspection policy to include monthly safety sweeps of tenant property at La Marqueta and quarterly safety sweeps of other NYCEDC-managed property near elevated infrastructure.

The MTA is responsible for inspections of the majority of under-track property. There are 84.5 miles of elevated track in the agency’s system (70 miles belong to New York City Transit; 12.5 miles to LIRR and 2 miles to Metro-North). And there are 150 properties under those tracks that the MTA leases to private entities. The state Department of Transportation, on the other hand, maintains 28 miles of elevated roadbed.

“The garden center … was not one of our leaseholders. It was a leaseholder of the city of New York,” said MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast at a board meeting on Wednesday. “In light of this incident, however, I’ve directed our inspection teams to not only continue inspecting our elevated structures and leaseholders, but to conduct seperate reviews and inspections of any leased properties either under or adjacent to our elevated structures.”

The Urban Garden Center’s owner, Dimitri Gatanas, was not available for comment.


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