Friday, March 19, 2010

The Rebuilding of Ground Zero, Part 97

Here's another live cam shot, taken a short time ago from a camera perched on top of the Millennium Hilton hotel directly across from the site (just East of Ground Zero).Click on the image to get a much larger version that lets you scroll around the image to see the different construction projects underway.

The Freedom Tower (1WTC) is in the upper right corner (NW corner of site). The two square recessed areas in the center of the frame are part of the 9/11 memorial and the reflecting pools/waterfall installation. The blue structure running just beneath that is part of the transit hub and is co-located over the MTA's 1 train line. The bottom left corner (SE corner of site) is part of 4WTC. The empty area at the bottom of the site is supposed to be where 2 and 3 WTC are to be located (if the Port Authority and Silverstein Properties can ever agree on financial terms). Battery Park City and West Street are at the top of the frame (West side of the site).

You can't see it from this vantage, but construction for the transit hub includes working underneath the 1 line, including building connecting passageways between the PATH terminal and the Fulton Street terminal via Dey Street.

The Port Authority has also answered a series of questions about the construction of the Freedom Tower (1WTC). The Port Authority expects the tower to rise to around the 55-60 floor level, or just below half the height of the full tower. They expect construction to add a new floor a week and the concrete core is being poured in place while the steel rises ahead of it. The exterior wall (curtain wall) will begin to be installed beginning in the third quarter this year and should be completed by the end of 2012. We'll see if they can live up to that schedule.

A federal court judge has scuttled the multimillion dollar deal for Ground Zero workers. Judge Hellerstein believes that the $575 million (that could rise to $657.5 million if enough plaintiffs agree), does an insufficient job of compensating the nearly 11,000 plaintiffs, who include firefighters and police and other emergency personnel who worked at Ground Zero following the attacks and have since suffered from any number of ailments.
But at Friday’s hearing Judge Hellerstein went much further, declaring that the settlement was “not enough” and that he was taking “judicial control.” He said that he was concerned that the fees going to the plaintiffs’ lawyers — about one-third of the settlement — would take “a very large bite” and that he planned to review them.

The judge said those fees should be paid by the same insurance company that is to cover any settlement and has been covering legal fees incurred by the city. Its reserves stand at $1.1 billion.

Judge Hellerstein also said that the terms of the settlement were too complicated for the plaintiffs to be able to reach an “intelligent decision” on whether to accept it.

“There has to be additional negotiations to come up with a better and fair settlement,” he said. “I will not preside over a settlement based on fear or ignorance.”

Lawyers for the two sides rushed out of the courtroom after the two-hour hearing and had no immediate comment. But plaintiffs who had appeared before the judge welcomed his stance.

“The speakers got inside of his heart,” said Candiace Baker, 42, a former police detective who spoke of logging 400 hours of overtime searching for bodies in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Ms. Baker, who says she suffers from respiratory problems and breast cancer developed after 9/11, said that although “more delays mean that the more time that passes, the more illnesses unfold,” she agreed with the judge’s goal of getting more compensation for the plaintiffs.

The settlement, reached on March 11, required approval from 95 percent of the plaintiffs to take effect. Judge Hellerstein said that once a new one was negotiated, he would make himself available to plaintiffs to explain their options, rather than leave that to their lawyers.

“I want transparency. I want accountability. I want judicial control over this process,” he said at the hearing. “They’ve got to come up with an agreement under judicial supervision that will make us all proud.”

Legal experts said that whether Judge Hellerstein had the authority to reject the settlement was subject to debate.

Richard A. Nagareda, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School who specializes in mass personal-injury litigation, said that while other district court judges had reserved the right to review settlement agreements in similar mass tort cases, that authority had not been tested yet on appeal.

“The authority he’s asserting is not firmly established,” Mr. Nagareda said.
The deal that is in doubt is one that had been under negotiations for years between the City and dozens of defendants and the class of plaintiffs. It was a difficult deal to craft, and it's all thrown into doubt because the Judge has concerns.

Some of the concerns are justified - particularly on lawyer fees. However, the delay of the negotiation means that the likelihood of the first test trials going forward will increase and the uncertainty of trial looms. Rather than a guaranteed amount set by a special master, the cases could leave some victims out of luck and delay payment further.

There is no good outcome here, but these victims of the 9/11 attacks deserve proper compensation.

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