Thursday, May 07, 2009

A question for the oversight hearing: what happened to utility work on Pacific Street? And why won't the ESDC explain?

(This is one in an irregular series of articles about issues that a State Senate committee might address when it holds a hearing on Atlantic Yards.)

Why do we need an oversight hearing?

Because the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC)--described in this week's New York Observer as flummoxing even supporters with its disarray--won't answer some basic informational questions, but instead punts the questions over to closemouthed developer Forest City Ratner

Yes, the ESDC usually does respond to my queries, not always with full information, but in this case seems to be failing at a basic level of accountability.

A curious change

I contacted the ESDC with an obvious question.

In the Atlantic Yards Construction Update for the weeks beginning November 3, 2008 and November 10, 2008, the ESDC stated, under the heading of Utility Work:
The first of three phases of upgraded water and sewer installations is underway and is expected to continue through the end of the year. Work will continue on Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth Avenues and on Sixth between Pacific and Dean Streets. Work is complete on a new sewer chamber on Dean Street near 6th Avenue. Work will begin on a new sewer chamber on 6th Avenue at Pacific Street.
Transit ducts on Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street have been relocated. Cable will be pulled in the new transit ducts. This work is expected to continue over the next month. All work taking place in the sidewalk will occur during the day. Pedestrian walkways will be maintained.
(Emphasis added)
(Click on graphics to enlarge)

In the next Atlantic Yards Construction Update for the weeks beginning November 17, 2008 and November 24, 2008, however, the ESDC stated, under the heading of Utility Work:
Transit ducts on Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street have been relocated. Cable will be pulled in the new transit ducts. This work is expected to continue over the next month. All work taking place in the sidewalk will occur during the day. Pedestrian walkways will be maintained.
(Emphasis added)

Obvious gaps

What's missing? Any mention of that new sewer chamber.

Was it completed? Unlikely, given that the construction update stated that "work will begin" and that it noted that "[w]ork is complete" on the Dean Street sewer chamber.

Work on the transit ducts was supposed to "continue over the next month."

However, no subsequent Construction Updates mention such utility work.

Rather, it looks like the utility work stopped abruptly instead of being completed.

Who was paying for it? Forest City Ratner--and the developer stopped nearly all work on the footprint site in late November/early December, claiming it had completed all the work it could do while lawsuits were pending.

I found that claim not very credible, and the Construction Updates--distributed by the ESDC but produced, one receipient tells me, by FCR--buttress my analysis.

Looking for answers

I asked the ESDC if that work on the 6th/Pacific sewer chamber was ever begun or completed.

The ESDC on Tuesday morning told me I should contact Forest City Ratner. I sent an email to the developer's spokesman and, as I expected, did not get a response in two days.

I checked with a resident who lives near the footprint, who asked some other neighbors if they remembered any work at Pacific Street and 6th Avenue equivalent to the sewer chamber work that took place at Dean and 6th. The answer: no.

This is hardly the most important issue facing the Atlantic Yards project or the ESDC. But someone from the agency should be required to provide answers, under oath.

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