The public needs time to review memorial report

The words “finally settled” will not be able to be applied to World Trade Center questions for a very long time, but this week Frank Sciame did open the way for progress on the memorial. Sciame’s report to the governor and mayor outlining $285 million worth of cost savings makes it a more doable project.

The fact that Sciame was able to produce a substantive document and somehow avoid angering any major W.T.C. constituency is a remarkable achievement in itself. The changes he is recommending retain the best parts of the design by Michael Arad and Peter Walker and get the budget down to high, but manageable levels. He and the consultants who donated their time to produce the recommendations deserve the gratitude of the city and the country.

There is still a fight with the Port Authority over infrastructure costs, the estimated price of the direct costs is a massive $768 million, the hidden costs are in the hundreds of millions and may never be calculated, and part of the memorial may still be subjected to an entrance fee, but the changes should allow construction to begin soon. Next month is too quick, though.

Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg gave Sciame the assignment and were able to ask him questions throughout his month-long analysis, but the public, with none of the advantages of the governor and mayor, only have seven days to comment. There will be no public hearing, no community presentation and no chance for people to get answers directly from officials.

One of the reasons we were willing to rely on so many anonymous sources for our article two weeks ago about the changes Sciame was likely to recommend, was we felt it was important for our readers to learn as much about the changes that were coming as soon as possible.

We are anxious to get more construction going at the site too, and we understand the need for family members to have a permanent memorial, but if it opens on 10/11/09 instead of 9/11/09 it is a small price to pay to insure broad-based support. There are still questions to be answered.

The changes do look better. It is now a memorial that will be able to function all year round. The cost cuts have even led to savings on the annual maintenance fees of $11.6 million, which in the long run will be a bigger benefit to the public.

Although we joined Bloomberg and Community Board 1 in recommending moving the memorial museum to the Freedom Tower, we accept Sciame’s conclusion that it would not save much money and would lead to other problems. Keeping the tower free of an essential component of the W.T.C. site could also free the next governor to cut off the hemorrhaging dollars being thrown at the tower and allow the market to have more of a say as to when this building should be built.

The governor and mayor should act like they think they have a good plan and direct the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to present it to people rather than trying to rush it through without review.

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