Neighbors raise money for diesel lawsuit

By Albert Amateau

Neighbors Against NOISE last week issued a call to about 300 Tribeca residents for contributions to fund a lawsuit to force the city’s Dept. of Buildings to prohibit the storage of diesel fuel above ground level near subway entrances or schools.

The group has been demanding for more than a year that D.O.B. crack down on the former Western Union Building at 60 Hudson St. across the street from Buckle My Shoe, a pre-school. Telecommunications firms store what is believed to be thousands of gallons of diesel fuel for emergency use in their electronic switching facilities on the upper floors of 60 Hudson St.

Norman Siegel, attorney for the neighborhood group, demanded last month that Buildings enforce the law that prohibits any above-ground diesel storage within 1,000 feet of the nearest wall of a building occupied by a school or hospital or within 1,000 feet of an entrance or exit from a tunnel for motor vehicles, subway or railroad cars.

Sixty Hudson St. is midway between the Seventh Ave. subway stations at Franklin and Chambers Sts. NOISE (Noxious Odors Incessant Sounds and Emissions) says that both the school and the subway entrances are considerably less than 1,000 feet from the building. Siegel said last week that D.O.B. did not respond to his Nov. 17 letter and he indicated that he would file the lawsuit in January.

A D.O.B. spokesperson this week said the 1,000-foot rule was part of the fire code and applied only to wholesale bulk oil storage where petroleum products are offered for sale.

“To fund the lawsuit, we need to raise $50,000 to cover legal fees, research, expert testimony and other related costs,” said Tim Lannan, president of NOISE in a Dec. 9 e-mail letter to neighbors. “We have an e-mail list of over 300,” he said in a telephone interview later.

Lannan said that the amount of diesel fuel stored on some of the upper floors of 60 Hudson St. is in excess of the amount of fuel stored at 7 World Trade Center. After the Twin Towers collapsed Sept.11, 2001, a fire, which investigators believe was spread because of the diesel, led to the collapse of 7 W.T.C. in the afternoon.

At a Tribeca forum on diesel fuel storage last June, Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster acknowledged that the department was negotiating with the owners of 60 Hudson St. about possible variances to legalize fuel storage on six floors in excess of code limits in return for installing fire safety equipment beyond what is required by law.

But NOISE and City Councilmember Alan Gerson both insist that variances to allow any violations in the building code are unacceptable.

“I met with Patricia Lancaster recently and repeated our request for some kind of public process regarding any variances,” said Gerson. The commissioner indicated that she has submitted the request for public consultation to department lawyers, Gerson said. “She claims it’s a complicated issue. I can’t see what’s complicated about it.”

Lancaster also told Gerson that the department has engaged Ove Arup & Partners, an international engineering consulting firm based in London, to study the issue of diesel storage variences. The Arup firm last July completed a study, “Building Regulations – Post Sept. 11” for the British government. Robin Forst, a member of Gerson’s deputy chief of staff said last week that Lancaster indicated that the department would not make a final decision on variances for diesel storage rules until Arup completes its study.