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Council Sorts Out Who Will Demolish Contaminated Buildings

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The City Council held a hearing Thursday to sort out which government agencies are responsible for the demolition of three buildings contaminated by the World Trade Center attack.

A Council committee heard testimony from representatives of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, an advocacy group for worker safety.

"This community -- District One, District Two and District Three, that's the community that I'm talking about -- do not trust you," said Councilwoman Margarita Lopez while addressing the World Trade Center Coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, who testified at the hearing.

"I guess I would suggest you should continue to keep tabs on us, and I'm confident you'll see our efforts our genuine and comprehensive," responded EPA WTC Coordinator Pat Evangelista.

The committee addressed concerns about the health and safety of residents and workers in the area when the buildings are brought down.

At issue is which agency should oversee demolition of the former Deutsche Bank building, as well as another building still owned by Deutsche Bank and a third building owned by the City University of New York.

“We must always, at every turn, err on the side of precaution, not on the side of economy or expedition, recognizing that lives and health are at stake,” said Manhattan Councilman Alan Gerson.

“We take these concerns very seriously, and we are doing all that we can to address them as the process of taking down these buildings continues,” said Evangelista.

The committee also questioned the head of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which bought the Deutche Bank location for redevelopment at the World Trade Center site. The LMDC's initial demolition plan was not accepted by the EPA and is being revised.

"The public is going to see that process and sometimes it's going to be ugly, but what we want to be judged on is the ultimate plan which we implement," said LMDC President Kevin Rampe.

The committee is also looking into an emergency warning system to be used during demolition of the buildings, and precautions to protect the subway system, which runs below the former Deutsche Bank site.

One thing everybody involved in the debate does agree on is that the buildings do need to come down in order for the re-development of Lower Manhattan to continue. But environmental and occupational safety watchdog groups are concerned about the process that will be used to do that.

"The head of LMDC said they are going to take the most cautious approach, and it's unprecedented, the fact that he even admitted that. We're calling for the full, strictest precautions," said Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law Project.

Just how agencies overseeing the demolition interpret "strict precautions" will likely will be a source of contention through the entire process.
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