Tuesday, September 10, 2013

12 Years Later: Remembering 9/11

September 11, 2001. New Yorkers were heading to the polls to vote on the next mayor of the city. It was a morning full of promise and baseball fans were excited about the Yankees' chances of making the playoffs, the Mets thinking about the future, and the start of the new football season. In other words, it was a day not much different than those September days we've been experiencing in the New York City metro area this year.

While everyone was focused on the day ahead, another group of people were thinking about the mission that would forever alter the skyline of NYC and alter history. Al Qaeda's terrorists were already on board four jets bound for New York and Washington DC and had already overpowered the crews.

I was on a NJ Transit train with my dad when I first noticed something wrong at the WTC out of the corner of my eye; it was smoke coming from the upper reaches of the tower.

It was just around 8:45.

The world changed, and I didn't quite realize it.

People watching the morning news didn't know it either at first. But they would soon be glued to broadcasts that showed the horrors of the worst terror attacks ever perpetrated.

The damage done on that morning was nearly impossible to comprehend. In the mere blink of the eye, nearly 3,000 people were condemned to death and the World Trade Center would soon be reduced to a pile of rubble that would burn for weeks on end. Reports would come in that a third plane had struck and damaged the Pentagon.  But the death rattle of the Twin Towers would continue for just under two hours and victims trapped above the fires had to make the choice to stay and choke on the heat and smoke or jump to a certain death. All too many make that decision to jump. Firefighters on the ground also succumbed before the towers fell - falling debris hitting firefighters and fleeing people alike.

Victim Number One would be there to comfort those who fell. Rev. Mychal Judge of the FDNY was comforting fallen firefighters and office workers alike when he was struck and killed by debris. So many people inside the Department and around the City thought so highly of him that he was honored as the first victim of the attacks - so that he could comfort and aid all those many others who were murdered on that day - to guide them to Heaven.

All too many would unfortunately follow him - and not by their own choice.

Here are remembrances of a few of those killed on 9/11, as written by my friend legalbgl for Project 2,996 (and updated to reflect his additional memorializations for 2011 through 2013):

Lt. Col. Jerry Don Dickerson Jr. (2013).
Mary Lenz Wieman (2012).
Mark Francis Broderick (2011).
Captain Patrick J. Brown (2010).
Hagay Shefi (2009).
Alison Marie Wildman (2008).
Daniel Thomas Afflito (2007).

Coming full circle, on May 1, 2011, the United States finally caught up with Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. In a daring raid on a compound near Pakistan's military academy, US special forces killed bin Laden and captured a treasure trove of intel.  That's small consolation for the thousands of families and friends who still grieve the senseless murder of their loved ones in New York, Washington DC at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The profound loss is a heavy burden on all those who were there and on those who lost loved ones. While television crews jockeyed for spots overlooking the Ground Zero site, the death of bin Laden would not bring solace to those who lost loved ones, nor would it bring their loved ones back.

Local commemorations are already underway and will continue through the week throughout the region. And there are those in the area who are still suffering from the medical effects of exposure to the air at Ground Zero.

The federal government created the James Zadroga health and compensation fund because of the ongoing health concerns of those who carried out relief and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. More people are seeking assistance via the program, including those emergency responders who came from across the country to spell the FDNY and NYPD and PAPD in the grim task of recovering the remains of those murdered.

Emergency personnel were at Ground Zero around the clock for weeks on end before officials would claim that the site had officially been cleared of remains. Many of them, plus those living near Ground Zero would later become ill from the effects of breathing in all the dust and debris that was pulverized by the collapsing towers, and it is one of the sadder chapters from 9/11 that we are still burying victims of the attacks to this day, including James Zadroga.

People who risked their lives to save others and to help families who lost loved ones find remains of the victims are themselves victims of the attacks. The Zadroga Act isn't perfect by any means and it has come too late for some, but it's a start to compensate and aid families of responders who are suffering from all manner of ailments  attributed to Ground Zero exposure.

The death toll, which was once feared to be more than we could bear - in the tens of thousands, would eventually drop to around 2,742 at the World Trade Center. However, that count continues rising as more emergency personnel working at Ground Zero succumb to ailments attributed to exposures at Ground Zero. The head of the PBA says that the total number of cops who have died from medical ailments related to the 9/11 attacks is greater than the number who died during the attacks themselves. More than 1,100 people have cancers attributed to exposure at Ground Zero. Over 65,000 are registered with the WTC Registry. Some of their names will eventually be added to the roll of those killed in the attacks.

Construction at the site now dominates discussion, though there are unsettling discoveries made from time to time. Workers at the site of the proposed Park 51 / Cordoba House Islamic Center found part of the landing gear of one of the planes wedged between the building and an adjacent one.

The past 10 years have been a near constant reminder of the profound sense of absence. 1WTC (aka the Freedom Tower) has finally recaptured part of the skyline. 1WTC is still under construction but the antenna and external structures are complete. The base and interior work continues.

Construction of the Transit Hub is also underway, and Santiago Calatrava's design now peeks out above ground as well.

The WTC Transit Hub from Greenwich Street at Vesey
Looking down Greenwich St at the WTC Transit Hub and 3 and 4 WTC
4WTC exterior finished; the building needs interior work, but is in its final form.

2 and 3 WTC are only being built as a stub capable of being completed to their originally designed heights. Unless Larry Silverstein receives commitments to lease space, they will remain as stub buildings that provide retail commercial space for the foreseeable future. 4WTC will be opened to business in November. It's likely that work will restart later this year on 3WTC as there have been rumblings of a deal in the works for leases of significant amounts of space in the tower with GroupM. The 1WTC Observatory will take longer to open,  but Conde Nast will be moving into its offices in 1WTC in 2014 and retail spaces in 3 and 4 WTC will be opening in the coming year courtesy of Silverstein and Westfield Properties.

Fiterman Hall
Meanwhile, Fiterman Hall has now been opened for a full year as students from the Borough of Manhattan Community College have been able to use the facility for classes.

While the National 9/11 Memorial opened in time for the 10th anniversary, the National 9/11 Museum at the World Trade Center had been delayed due to an ongoing battle over who is responsible for certain costs. The museum foundation and the Port Authority had fought over hundreds of millions in costs, and the resulting delay meant that the earliest it would open is early 2014.

The delays were made worse as a result of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy. That included flooding of the museum facilities that are under the podium containing the memorial. It turns out that the battle over costs between the memorial foundation and the Port Authority was a blessing in disguise. It meant that facilities weren't finished out and artifacts weren't in place when lower Manhattan was flooded by Sandy. It also means that the facilities will have to address protecting the artifacts from future storms.

Then, there's the cost to operate the museum when it eventually opens in conjunction with the memorial. The WTC Memorial Foundation estimates it will cost $60 million a year to operate the memorial and museum, which is far out of line from other memorials operated by the National Park Service. It makes tremendous sense and it is logical for the 9/11 museum and memorial to be operated by the NPS instead of the private foundation because of cost containment and the ability to manage the myriad details that come along with such a sensitive site and one of national and international importance.

Millions of people have already paid their respects and visited the 9/11 memorial, and the site has fast become a touchstone for those visiting the city. Tourists from around the country and the world flock to the area to see the new construction and to visit the memorial.

One of the stumbling blocks continues to be whether the museum will charge a fee for entry. I've long argued against any kind of entry fee as well as stripping the memorial foundation of the authority to run the facility and instead put the NPS in charge. The NPS does a tremendous job managing sites around the nation, and the memorial and museum should come under the NPS umbrella. However, without Congressional action, the situation will remain in flux and we should expect to see entry fees imposed on those visiting the site (we already see the foundation making "mandatory" suggested donations for access to the memorial). I wouldn't be surprised if the entry fee runs $20 or more. As more than 4 million visit annually, that would mean $80 million in revenues towards operations.

The Port Authority, which owns the entire site, had been building the infrastructure necessary for other components of the site, including the Vehicle Security Center, the PATH transit hub, and the museum. All three are seriously over budget and are years behind schedule. The PATH Transit hub was among the worst offenders. It was supposed to have been completed in 2009 for $2.2 billion, and yet the earliest it may be finished is 2016 at a cost of more than $4 billion.

When one looks at the recently enacted toll and fare hikes, the cost overrun for PATH turns out to be nearly the entire amount of revenue expected to be raised from the hikes. That's inexcusable; the overruns on the transit hub sap the Port Authority's ability to handle other critical infrastructure projects around the region, and commuters to Lower Manhattan and businesses that want to consider Lower Manhattan have to take into account that the World Trade Center area is still one vast construction site.

When one realizes that the Port Authority gave up the trademark rights to the World Trade Center and WTC to a foundation started by a former employee of the agency for $10, you can begin to understand how poorly the authority had handled its assets over the years. A new report by the Bergen Record found that the Port Authority has no record of this deal being done, which makes this whole situation even more bizarre. After all, it's a former head of the agency involved - Guy Tozzoli.  It's why I don't think the agency has managed its assets well, nor handled the rebuilding in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

The Port Authority said Monday that it had no record of its governing board approving a 1986 deal that handed over ownership of the World Trade Center name for $10. And the agency’s top executive at the time said he didn’t recall it ever coming across his desk.

That added to the mystery surrounding how the Port Authority came to sell the vaunted name of its Manhattan landmark to a group run by a retiring agency executive who made millions in the years that followed.

The Christie administration, which jointly steers the agency with New York’s governor, slammed the deal on Monday, in response to a story in The Record a day earlier.

“You can be sure that would never happen under this administration,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said. “I’d venture to say that if something like that was done today, it would probably draw the attention of the United States Attorney’s Office.”
The Port Authority essentially handed over one of its most valuable assets to a former executive who has made a ton of coin over the deal, and has even cost the agency money to continue using the name. Had the agency retained the rights to the name and licensed the name to other entities as the WTCA has done, the Port Authority would have had millions of dollars of revenue that it could have used to fund ongoing operations and projects.

Meanwhile, nearby transit projects are slowly inching towards completion, including the Fulton Transit Center a block east of Ground Zero. That project, run by the MTA, is similarly over budget and late. However, it's far closer to completion than the PATH hub. When finished, the Fulton Center would link with the PATH transit hub by the Dey Street connector, and ultimately those working at the World Financial Center would be able to access Fulton Center without having to travel outside. It's likely to be opened in time for when 4WTC is opened for business later this year.

The skyline will never be the same. Neither will our hearts, which are heavy with the loss and supreme sacrifices made on 9/11 by the rescue personnel who bravely rushed up the towers even as people were racing to get out of the towers or gasping as people were forced to jump to their deaths to avoid being burned alive in the fires that racked the towers.

We remember.
Tribute in Light


Looking up at 1WTC and 7WTC.
More photos of Ground Zero and the rebuilding at the World Trade Center, as taken from 4WTC, which is scheduled to open next year.

The WTC as seen from Hoboken.


For my prior year recollections and postings, see September 11, 2012, 10 Years Later,  September 11, 2010September 11, 2009,  September 11, 2008September 11, 2007September 11, 2006, and September 11, 2005.

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