Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 9/11 Eleven Years Later

On a morning not all that different than the one forecast for today, it was a bolt from the blue. The skies over New York City were a crisp bright blue with nary a cloud in a sky. It was a morning full of promise.

September 11, 2001 and New Yorkers were heading to the polls to vote on the next mayor of the city. People were talking baseball and the upcoming football season, just as they are doing now. Talk of the  Yankees making the playoffs. While everyone was focused on the day ahead, 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 burned 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.

Lower Manhattan was engulfed in smoke and debris as the towers fell. Emergency personnel, still choking on the dust that would swirl through Lower Manhattan for days and weeks to come, quickly moved to seek to help those who may have been trapped beneath all the rubble. They formed bucket brigades, moving debris a handful at a time. Occasionally, the remains of a victim would be discovered and crews would solemnly remove the remains.

Coming full circle, on May 1, 2011, the world learned that 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 will help the intelligence community and military plan further campaigns against the terrorists who did so much damage.  Yet, that pales in comparison to what happened on that fateful day and the nearly 3,000 people murdered across 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.

Preparing for 9/11 ceremonies at 1WTC.

Preparing for ceremonies outside the FDNY 10 Truck House on Liberty.
Here are remembrances of a few of those killed on 9/11, as written by my friend legalbgl for Project 2,996: Captain Patrick J. Brown (2010).
Hagay Shefi (2009).
Alison Marie Wildman (2008).
Daniel Thomas Afflito (2007).

The NYPD will be issuing twitters for each of those policemen killed during the attacks. Local commemorations are already underway and will continue through the week. However, the commemoration at Ground Zero will be different; for the first time politicians will not be pontificating or making speeches. The commemorations will be confined to a recitation of the names of those murdered in the attacks. That's caused some handwringing from some who think that politicians gathering at Ground Zero to recite the Pledge of Allegiance,  Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address to poems by John Donne and Langston Hughes adds gravitas since it is something that brings people together.

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. The fund is on the cusp of recognizing that exposure to Ground Zero dust was toxic and caused cancer.
After an 11-year battle, the federal government is poised to finally recognize that people who lived near Ground Zero — as well as rescue and recovery workers who sifted through the toxic rubble there — got cancer as a result. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health — which is responsible for deciding whether cancer should be among the illnesses covered by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act — is expected to announce the findings as early as tomorrow. Michael Barasch and Noah Kushlefsky, two lawyers who represent thousands of first responders and residents, said legislative aides involved in drafting the new regulations and Victim Compensation Fund staffers told them that about 50 cancers would be included.
While that is great news for those who are registered with the fund, it's cold comfort to those whose lives have already been cut short.

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.

We cannot allow petty political differences prevent the delivery of critical aid to these emergency personnel and those who selflessly strode into the unknown to help provide rescue and recovery from the debris of Ground Zero all while environmental agencies proclaimed the air was safe to breathe - it wasn't.

Even after the fires were being put out and officials claimed that the site had been cleared of remains, it turns out that victims' remains would be discovered months and even years thereafter on buildings surrounding Ground Zero including the rooftop of the former Deutsche Bank building. 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. That count may rise once again as more and more emergency personnel working at Ground Zero succumb to ailments attributed to exposures at Ground Zero.
Reflecting the rising 1WTC.

The past 10 years have been a near constant reminder of the profound sense of absence. 1WTC (aka the Freedom Tower) recaptures only part of the skyline. 1WTC is still under construction, but the main tower erection is complete. The antenna that will bring the tower to its ultimate height of 1,776 feet remains.

3WTC with 4WTC in background.
4WTC  has also been erected, but the same story can't be said of either 2 or 3 WTC nor the WTC memorial or PATH Transit Hub. 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.

Fiterman Hall
After years of wrangling, Fiterman Hall is now open and students from the Borough of Manhattan Community College are once again able to work in buildings rather than trailers that lined their West Side campus.

While the National 9/11 memorial opened in time for the 10th anniversary, the National 9/11 museum at the World Trade Center has been delayed due to an ongoing battle over who is responsible for certain costs. The museum foundation and the Port Authority are fighting over hundreds of millions in costs, and the resulting delay means that the earliest it would open is likely 2014. That's completely inexcusable.

Aides to Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Cuomo have so far been unable to resolve their differences over which government agencies will pay the operating costs of the museum, which is intended to document the terrorist attacks of 2001 and honor the nearly 3,000 victims. The two sides also remain at odds over who will have oversight of the museum and the surrounding memorial. The negotiations are further complicated because Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey must sign off on any agreement before it can take effect. Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Christie together control the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center site. Mr. Bloomberg is chairman of the Sept. 11 foundation, which controls the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and oversees commemorative events at the site. With work on the museum at a standstill for nearly a year, fund-raising and donations have fallen, and exhibits are gathering dust in fabrication shops in Buffalo and Santa Fe, N.M., according to museum executives. The delay means that the museum may not open before construction on 1 World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, is finished in early 2014. Aides to Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Cuomo said they hoped that the 11th anniversary, on Tuesday, might create pressure for a last-minute deal. Late last week, the two sides began circulating proposals to resolve the yearlong impasse.
The Memorial Grove and WTC Museum with 1WTC and 7WTC in background.
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 international importance.

And should it surprise anyone that a deal was finally reached between the Port Authority and the Memorial Foundation right before the anniversary? The new deal likely means that the earliest that the museum will open is September 2013, though it's likely that portions will not open until 2014 at the earliest.

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, and that Congress must make that happen, but to this point, Congress has blocked any such efforts.

The museum was supposed to open this month, but construction all but ceased a year ago because of a funding squabble between the foundation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land the memorial sits on.
Daniels said it will take at least a year for the museum to open once construction resumes, meaning the site may not be fully complete until at least 2014.
The failure to open the museum on time has thrown off the foundation's financial planning. Officials had expected to use the museum, being built mostly with money from various government agencies, plus private donations, as its main source of revenue.
While visitors will be allowed into the above-ground portions of the memorial for free, the foundation plans to charge people to descend into the museum's exhibition space, where they will see portraits of the nearly 3,000 victims, hear oral histories of the tragedy and view artifacts such as the staircase World Trade Center workers used to flee on 9/11.
The admission price hasn't been set. Foundation officials say they may also charge a "suggested donation" where visitors would be allowed to enter for free but would be strongly encouraged to pay a yet-undecided amount.
But if the museum gets the 2 million visitors a year the foundation expects, a $12 fee, like the one charged at the memorial to the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, would cover 40 percent of the operating costs. More money will be generated through fundraising and the sale of memorabilia.

The NPS does a tremendous job managing sites around the nation, and the memorial and museum should come under the NPS umbrella, although the NPS has said that it can't afford to take on the challenge of running the site with its own budget issues.

While a deal has been reached, the details have not yet been released. Since we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars involved, it will be interesting to see which side is responsible for what.

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 roughly $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.

 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 overbudget 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.

The new memorial has welcomed more than 4.5 million visitors since it opened last year, exceeding expectations and there has been new construction and opportunities throughout Lower Manhattan. And yet, the site will always be tinged with sadness. 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.

It appears that the Port Authority's claims that the Memorial Foundation owed hundreds of millions of dollars was unsupported. The Memorial Foundation will give the Port Authority $17 million to restart work on the museum and the Port Authority will find ways to save $150 million. The Foundation also has given assurances that it will cover what it expects to be $60 million in operating costs per year once the museum opens.

Meanwhile, work on the Vehicle Security Center continues. The VSC is located adjacent to the entry area to the memorial and will eventually be the portal for vehicles that will supply the site. That too had been years behind schedule due to issues with the demolition of the former Deutsche Bank Building. A deal to rebuild the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was also finalized in the past year, requiring the Port Authority to build a platform atop which the church will be located. As with the museum funding claims, the Port Authority was making demands that were unsupported by the facts.

Time Lapse of the construction of 1WTC:

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

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


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