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July 20, 2006

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY (Open Letter): NEW TERROR TARGETS FOR BROOKLYN

UrbanRoom01.jpgYou've already heard it in the press: the Draft Environmental Impact Statement doesn't cover terrorism and security issues, despite their impacts on post-9/11 urban design and the fact that Bruce Ratner and Frank Gehry are proposing to build the 60-story glass-and-steel "Miss Brooklyn" atop a major transportation hub.

While the State won't study or reveal the potential impacts of putting the densest residential project in the entire US over a major transportation hub, Prospect Heights resident Alan Rosner keeps asking the tough questions and entreating the press to get some answers.

Glass-clad skyscrapers, next to a glass sports arena, above the third largest transportation hub in the city, may soon be coming to… Brooklyn. And no one has assumed responsibility for the risks Brooklyn is being told to swallow.

The State agency in charge, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), declares it will NOT address post-9/11 security issues — issues that were raised by local elected officials, the three affected community boards and more than 30 community groups, as well as at official Boro Board meetings with the ESDC in attendance.

Governor Pataki will soon be leaving Albany. Has even one reporter asked any of the candidates vying to replace him about their positions on the ESDC’s disregard of the public’s safety concerns? Somehow, the press seems to have decided there’s no story there.

Meanwhile, public officials outraged over the 40% cut in New York's Department of Homeland Security grants have remained silent on security in the heart of Brooklyn: Mayor Bloomberg, who gave over control to the State, silent; our own Mr. Security, Senator Schumer, silent.

In high-profile Manhattan, publicized security problems at the Freedom Tower led to a re-thinking of that project, ultimately resulting in a far smarter design. Terrorism concerns did not prevent development from going forward. Here in Brooklyn, the Atlantic Yards project, roughly as big, easily as consequential … well it’s … fuggedaboudit!!!

Due to the ESDC’s unique understanding of due diligence, the developer, not the State, could easily end up being the party making the following crucial public safety decisions, behind closed doors, with no oversight: * How strong should all that glass be? * Should there even be that much glass there?
* What fire ratings ought the structural steel have?

So, when do we learn who will determine our safety and well-being? And, how come no one appears interested in finding out?

What Ratner Wins By Ignoring Security
Fortunately for Ratner, project financials will not have to include 30 years of costly Terrorism Insurance premiums. For 16 towers and a sports arena, premiums could easily run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Will the public perhaps have to step in to cover this “unanticipated” cost? No one has addressed this question.

Also, the ESDC will never have to acknowledge that this project concentrates so much additional risk at this particular location, nor that it irreversibly alters Brooklyn’s existing risk profile. Neither will the ESDC be compelled to indicate that the alternative project proposals, without skyscrapers or sports arenas, would not create those concerns!

Finally, with State control trumping city building codes, we may be left with Ratner helping to determine: * standards for exterior glass blast resistance, * the fire ratings for the structural steel, * emergency stairwell sizes, * whether or not Fire Department radio repeaters will be installed in the high rises, * whether there will be bio-chemical detectors and proper air-circulation systems, * and a host of other critical design and construction standards.

Will cost or public safety prevail? And if “standards” are belatedly announced, will they include appropriate post-9/11 enhancements?

How Brooklyn Loses
Indirectly, the biggest cost to Brooklyn communities could be that increased risks lead property- and small-business-insurance providers to raise premiums or withdraw from the market altogether (See NY Daily News, So this is a terror target? 03/27/06).

Issues of uninsurability could affect affordable housing in ways that dwarf Ratner's pledges for the Atlantic Yards. Allstate’s response to Hurricane Katrina was to reduce its share of Brooklyn’s homeowners' insurance market (See, AP, HOMEOWNERS FAR AWAY PAY KATRINA'S DAMAGE, 06/22/06). Could this become one of those “who could ever have imagined” scenarios?

The greatest ongoing impact will likely come from the ESDC's ignoring of the traffic implications of the need for security barriers and vehicle inspections when the arena is in use, or when the Feds raise the Terror Alert Status. Likewise, since the NYPD can close streets for any security reason, the ESDC will not have to model those impacts, either. We, however, will have to live with whatever the ESDC’s Environmental Impact Statement ignores.

Indeed, the ESDC won’t have to address the implications for evacuations — or for that matter, NYPD and FDNY response times — in any sort of emergency situation. Given Brooklyn’s development-driven infrastructure overloads at the Atlantic Avenue transit station and the Flatbush, Atlantic & 4th Avenue intersections, such consequences would likely be unacceptable if publicly acknowledged.


What I haven't yet mentioned — just two years after the Madrid train bombings, a year after the London Metro bombings, and days after Mumbai’s rail bombings — is that the Atlantic Avenue station was the target of a failed suicide bomb plot in 1997.

One positive development: Ratner’s arena was originally to have sub-surface parking beneath the arena. The community protested and suddenly, it’s gone. However, it now appears that it was the NBA that determined it is unsafe to have parking beneath an arena, not any state or city agency — another story the press missed.

Alan Rosner
July, 2006

Posted by lumi at July 20, 2006 12:23 AM