NYC and MTA Trade Shots Over Ownership of Crane Collapse Site

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Site of the Crane Collapse (Photo: Brian Zumhagen/ WNYC)


UPDATED New York City and the NY MTA are trading shots over who owns the site of a crane collapse that killed one worker and injured four others on Tuesday.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a likely 2013 mayoral candidate,  said that the site is controlled by the MTA right now, and that means that State rules — not city construction regulations, apply.

“Right now, since it is an MTA work site, city agencies have to be invited…on site as opposed to every other work site in the city of New York,”

But the MTA shot back with a statement of its own.

"Crane contractors working on MTA construction projects are required to obtain annual operating certificates from the NYC Department of Buildings, and to post their current inspection certifications on the crane. The site of yesterday’s incident is city-owned property, which also gives the NYC Department of Buildings jurisdiction to inspect cranes there. The two attached documents show the reports from the two most recent NYC Department of Buildings inspections of the Yonkers Contracting Company Inc. crane in operation during yesterday’s incident."

In July, the MTA says, the the NYC Department of Buildings performed an annual inspection of the crane. Its written report indicated “No Deficiencies” at the top of the first page, and finished with the conclusion “No deficiencies found on crane at time of inspection.”

A second inspection, scheduled for January, was rescheduled because the crane was in operation.  It was rescheduled -- for today.

After we initially posted this story, MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg emailed us a note downplaying the dispute: "The city and the MTA are not feuding over who owns the property," Lisberg wrote. " City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to change the law regarding oversight of construction; we believe it's an idea worthy of study."

But the controversy is the latest wrinkle in the complications caused by the fact that the state runs the authority, which is largely associated with the city.  But the legislature -- with a large upstate representation often hostile to the city -- controls the budget.  And the board is appointed mostly by the governor, who doesn't always see eye-to-eye with the mayor on policy.

The MTA has suspended all work at the site until further notice. It has also ordered the inspection of all cranes at MTA construction sites in the city.

A variety of agencies, including the police department and the Manhattan district attorney, are investigating the cause of the collapse.

The MTA said Yonkers Contracting Company owned and operated the crane. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the company was fined four times — three of those violations were classified as serious. In 2010, the firm was fined $3,000 for a lack of adequate worker training.

Calls placed to the company for comment were not immediately returned.

Michael Simmermeyer, 30, of Burlington, N.J. was pronounced dead following Tuesday's accident at the No. 7 subway line extension construction site at 34th Street and 11th Avenue. One other person was hospitalized in serious condition and three people were treated for minor injuries.

Simmermeyer worked at the site with his father, his co-workers said.

"Both great guys to work with and hang out with. It's just horrible," said Joe Travers, an ironworker from the Rockaways. Simmermeyer was "one of the nicest guys I've ever worked with," he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city has made crane safety and construction reforms in the wake of the May 2008 East Side crane collapse that killed a crane operator and fellow worker. The crane's owner is currently on trial for manslaughter.

"We've made aggressive reforms to construction safety and crane safety," Bloomberg said Wednesday.

The crane was set up on the second of three levels on the construction site on Manhattan's West Side, city officials said. The FDNY said the boom came apart in two pieces — one 80 feet long and the other 40 feet long.

Jack Sullivan, deputy chief for the FDNY EMS, said it was possible one of the workers had been struck by the crane's boom. The crane operator and someone who worked with him were among those who were injured.

He described the removal of the workers from the construction site, about 60 feet below street level, as "extremely dangerous."

"We had construction material that wasn't stable," he said.

Dozens of first responders came to the accident site.

Thomas Rushkin, a retired city police officer and private investigator, said he was on his way home when he saw emergency vehicles heading over and got a glance at the pieces of the crane.

"The arm is broken in half," he said, adding that it appeared that one part of the crane was on a level below the street.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a statement saying they plan to work with all proper authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

"On behalf of the entire MTA, we pray for the recovery of the workers injured as a result of this tragic accident," the statement said.