Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Atlantic Yards construction violations: not just neglect, but also a cover-up of "documentation falsified by the contractor"

For years, residents near the Atlantic Yards project have complained about deafening late-night noise ("I take sleeping pills," one lamented), delivery trucks using residential streets for staging, and construction workers creating free parking by any means necessary, even uprooting a "No Standing" sign (video).

A new report, commissioned by the community initiative Atlantic Yards Watch, catalogs violations in depressing detail, suggesting that neighbors' interests have been sacrificed in developer Forest City Ratner's rush to get the Barclays Center finished for that first Jay-Z concert Sept. 28.

The state agency overseeing the project, Empire State Development (ESD, aka Empire State Development Corporation), has barely enforced the official mitigation protocols, nor have other agencies stepped up, according to the report. (ESD recently lost a lawsuit, and must analyze the community impact of a potential 25-year project buildout.)

Forest City Ratner's response was predictable. Spokesman Jonathan Rosen told the Daily News, “We take every complaint from our neighbors seriously and work hard to address them and meet our commitments to the community.”

A cover-up condoned

Maybe not so much. Not only has ESD neglected oversight, documents suggest the agency and its environmental monitor, Henningson, Durham & Richardson (HDR), have condoned a cover-up of a Forest City contractor's falsification.

Forest City was supposed to hire its own On-Site Environmental Monitor, meeting daily with contractors and observing site conditions. But the developer dragged its feet.

"During the second quarter of 2010, HDR expressed concerns with lack of oversight," the new report states. "Chuck Baldwin of Turner Construction was hired to handle the position until mid-July and HDR noted an improvement in on-site compliance."

However, that compliance relied on a wink and a nod, according to documents I discovered.

Each week, HDR compiles an "Atlantic Yards Field Inspection Report" for ESD. According to the non-public draft of the May 20, 2010 report, monitor Baldwin passed on to HDR sobering information: five pieces of heavy equipment lacked the required diesel particulate filter, aimed to reduce asthma-causing exhaust.

HDR "asked Chuck if FCRC has been keeping daily inspection reports for each piece of heavy machinery," according to the draft report. "He stated that while they have been maintaining this documentation, it had been falsified by the contractor." (Emphasis added.)

Baldwin told HDR a corrective action plan was requested from Hunt Construction, though no penalties were mentioned; in turn, HDR planned to talk with Forest City.
From the draft report

That damaging admission vanished from the final Field Inspection Report made available to the public, below.
From the final report
The official record suggests responsible behavior after the discovery, not falsification.

Empire State Development already has the contradictory mission of pursuing economic development while overseeing the impact of projects. This example of "agency capture" surely furthers the call to reform Atlantic Yards governance with some independent oversight.

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