9/11 kin mull suit over site preservation
Coalition says LMDC rushed historical review process.
BY ERROL A. COCKFIELD JR.
February 25, 2004, 9:35 PM EST
In a move that could disrupt the timeline for rebuilding at Ground Zero, a prominent victims' family group says it may sue the project's lead agency for rushing the site's historical review process.
The process and its outcome are critical for family groups who believe the remaining vestiges of the Twin Towers -- the distinctive slurry wall and box beam columns that trace the buildings' footprints -- are sacrosanct and must be preserved.
The potential federal lawsuit by the Coalition of 9/11 Families, an umbrella group for six organizations, against the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., is just the latest development in an ongoing struggle over the site's historical significance and how a study of the site's value should be conducted.
The debate pits preservation over profits as family groups and community leaders charge the LMDC with rushing the review process in an effort to break ground at the site by the third anniversary of the terror attacks. Critics of the LMDC say the agency is prematurely concluding that the rebuilding at the 16-acre site will not harm its historical importance.
"We can't get two-lot subdivisions through the state historic preservation office in the time this project has taken to go through review," said Joel Klein, a preservation consultant for the coalition, who said the group has retained an attorney to investigate a possible lawsuit against the LMDC.
In a move that historic preservationists agree is unusual, the LMDC earlier this month issued an early finding that any new building at the World Trade Center site would not have an adverse effect on the site's historical resources.
That decision immediately drew criticism from victims' family groups and the preservationists, who noted that the LMDC had not yet completed a federally required historical review of the site under the National Historic Preservation Act.
Their view was also endorsed by U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who sent a letter to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation calling for the independent agency to intervene in the review process. The letter referred to the LMDC finding as "a hasty determination."
LMDC president Kevin Rampe said in an interview, however, that the agency's finding reflects an ongoing effort to ensure that the site's historical nature is maintained.
As to the early finding, he said, "That's our determination at this stage and obviously we're going to take into account all of the public input and the public review. It's certainly not set."
The clash stems from a federal review of the site's historical resources that began in January and is expected to close by March 15. Since the World Trade Center site will be rebuilt with federal money, and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the site must undergo a historical review to determine which portions of it, if any, should be protected from new building.
That review includes five dozen representatives from community groups, victims' family groups and public officials. The LMDC is expected to make a final decision on the historical issue in April.
"There is a genuine fear that the magnitude of September 11th won't be appropriately conveyed," said Nikki Stern, director of Families of September 11th