Legislation will improve asbestos abatement procedures, strengthen inter-agency communication, and enhance smoking prohibitions

City Hall, June 10, 2009 – The City Council will vote on several important pieces of legislation designed to improve construction safety protocols, increase City oversight, and enhance inter-agency communication at construction, demolition, and abatement sites in New York City. These bills are part of a comprehensive legislative package announced by Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler in May as a response to the tragic Deutsche Bank fire that killed two New York City Firefighters.

Specifically, the bills being voted on today will:
• Establish an asbestos abatement permit program and enhance abatement safeguards.
• Require city agencies to share information about site violations issued and other key inspection data
• Promulgate rules to provide contractors further guidance on how to maintain egress in buildings
• Prohibit smoking at construction sites and at sites where asbestos abatement activities are taking place and prohibit the carrying of tobacco, lighters and matches in certain locations at abatement sites

The Council will also vote to approve zoning changes for the Dock Street DUMBO development in Downtown Brooklyn.

In addition to these bills, the Council will vote to heighten penalties for those who damage or remove trees in one of the city’s Special Natural Area Districts and to extend the Lower East Side/Chinatown Empire Zone to include the East River Science Park.

Following the tragic fire at the former Deutsche Bank building in Lower Manhattan that took the lives of New York City Firefighters Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia, the City Council will vote on several bills to strengthen oversight and operations at construction, demolition, and abatement sites. Today’s package of legislation establishes an asbestos abatement plan, improves interagency communications regarding site violations, and prohibits smoking at work sites.

“Taken together, these measures represent a significant overhaul of the City’s demolition and asbestos abatement procedures,” said Speaker Quinn. “And once they are implemented, they will take us a major step forward in making sure that conditions in this industry never lead to another event like the one that took the lives of Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia. I want to thank the Council Members, especially Council Members Vacca, Dilan, Gennaro, Gerson and Martinez, who have worked and will continue to work on this legislation. I also want to thank Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Skyler and all of the agency leaders and personnel for the work they have done in evaluating our construction processes and developing this legislation.”

• Regulating oversight and safety of asbestos abatement. The Council will vote to establish an asbestos abatement permit program that will:
1. Require permits for certain abatement jobs that pose the highest safety risk;
2. Mandate the use of fire-retardant materials during the abatement process; and
3. Authorize DEP inspectors to enforce provisions of the fire and building code at abatement sites.
The Department of Environmental Protection will also be required to publish additional guidance to environmental contractors on how to maintain egress and satisfy other safety requirements at abatement sites.

“Demolition and asbestos abatement are necessary to the development of our City, and we need to make sure the people who work these jobs are as safe as possible,” said Council Member Miguel Martinez. “But the measures we’re voting on today are not just good for the people who work these jobs – they are also good for the inspectors, the firefighters and the surrounding neighborhoods, for everyone who is depending on a fast and safe process.”

“The history of events at the Deutsche Bank building demands that we take action to prevent such tragedies in the future,” said Council Member Alan J. Gerson, whose district includes the Deutsche Bank Building. “These bills are a good step toward protecting the workers and communities surrounding construction sites from asbestos and fire injuries.”

• Implementing zero-tolerance smoking policy at certain demolition, construction and abatement sites. The Council will vote on two bills to strengthen provisions against smoking in and around construction, demolition, and asbestos abatement sites. One of the bills enhances existing smoking prohibitions by including them in the building code, which will increases awareness of the prohibitions and allow for greater enforcement and protection by building inspectors. The second bill prohibits smoking on any floor of a building where asbestos abatement activities are taking place and prohibits the carrying of tobacco, matches and lighters in the most sensitive areas of abatement jobs. The Deutsche Bank fire was caused by discarded smoking material in a site that was being demolished and undergoing asbestos abatement.

“Let safety be our priority in everything we do; let it be the main goal,” said Council Member Letitia James. “Smoking bans at construction, demolition, and abatement sites can help prevent potential fires and save innocent lives.”

• Improving inter-agency coordination and information sharing. The Council will vote to require the Department of Environmental Protection, the Fire Department, and the Department of Buildings to share information about violations issued at work sites and other key inspection data so that inspectors from all three agencies enter a site aware of any serious problems and agency managers can allocate inspection resources most efficiently to the properties that pose the highest risks

“To have effective oversight and enforcement, we need our agencies to talk to one another,” said Fire and Criminal Justice Committee Chair James Vacca. “This bill brings together three departments that visit the same sites and conduct similar inspections but that haven’t always shared information. By making sure each inspector knows the results of all previous inspections at a given site, this bill has the potential to save not only time but lives as well.”

The Council will vote to approve the development of a new building in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, called Dock Street DUMBO. The project includes space for a new school and 70 units of affordable housing. It has a maximum height of 160 feet and will be 100 feet from the Brooklyn Bridge at its closest point. Under the current zoning regulations, any structure built on this site could be much larger and closer to the bridge than the newly proposed development.

“Two Trees has put forward a project that will change DUMBO for the better and have a minimal impact on views of the Brooklyn Bridge,” said Speaker Quinn. “It will add roughly 70 units of affordable housing and a new school to an area that desperately needs both resources. This type of public private partnership should be a model for development across our City, especially now as we look to make capital improvements to our neighborhoods with seriously limited municipal resources.”

“I support the Dock Street DUMBO project because it holds the promise of hundreds of new middle school seats for public school children in Downtown Brooklyn and surrounding communities,” said Council Member Letitia James. “This project proposes to build a 300-seat public middle school in a privately funded, LEED-certified ‘green’ residential building that will also create DUMBO’s first ever affordable housing. The developer plans to donate a significant portion of the cost of the school to the City as well – a financial contribution worth over $40 million– and has already reached out to the surrounding community regarding job opportunities and other economic development benefits. Dock Street DUMBO, with its donated middle school and affordable housing commitment is exactly the kind of smart, innovative public-private partnership needed for the future of our communities.”

Promoting economic development in New York City and encouraging local businesses to stay in New
York City, the Council will vote extend the Lower East Side/Chinatown Empire Zone to include the East River Park, which will house many biotechnology firms. Empire Zones are designated areas throughout the State that offer economic incentives to certified businesses. Such incentives include tax credits for hiring new employees as well as state sales tax refunds.

“By expanding the Chinatown/Lower East Side Empire Zone to include the East River Science Park, the City of New York is taking an important step to diversify the City’s economy, create a bio-tech cluster that rivals or surpasses other City’s like Boston, retain many of the fledging bio-tech companies and bioscience workers that are spawned from our world renowned medical facilities, universities, and institutions, and create several thousand of jobs for New Yorkers on every rung of the economic ladder over the next several years,” said Economic Development Committee Chair Thomas White.

To protect the City’s precious green space, the Council will vote to heighten penalties for unlawful damage or removal of trees within a Special Natural Area District. Special Natural Area Districts (SNAD) are special zoning district overlays that provide added protections for an area’s natural features. Significant natural features include rock outcroppings, trees and forests, wetlands and water features, and steep slopes.

The Department of City Planning has approved four Special Natural Area Districts in the City: two in Staten Island, one in Queens and one in the Bronx. Fines for removing or damaging trees in a SNAD will now range from $750 to $10,000, up from a maximum of $500 under existing law. In addition, enforcement actions will be able to be brought against anyone damaging or removing a tree, and not just from the owner of the property,

Minority Leader James Oddo said, “This legislation will help ensure that contractors do not haphazardly cut down trees in Special Natural Area Districts without following the correct procedures. The bill is designed to save trees from illegal destruction, and it was written so that the penalty can go to the contractor who illegally removed the tree. Ultimately, I hope no one is punished under this bill and that the threat of severe fines is enough of a deterrent to prevent this behavior in the first place.”

The City Council will vote on a resolution supporting President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. Throughout her career in public service, which began three decades ago as an assistant district attorney in New York City, Judge Sotomayor has exemplified the qualities and experiences that President Obama seeks in a candidate for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.