Port Authority Board Gets an Earful from Public Over 9/11 Memorial, Community Relations
Thursday, September 20, 2012 - 09:01 PM
(New York, NY -- WNYC) The day after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released a consultant's report lauding the agency's newfound zeal for transparency and accountability, the public showed up at the agency's monthly Board of Commissioners meeting with a very different assessment.
It was a full house.
A contingent of 9/11 family members used the public comment period to urge the Commissioners to reject a Memorandum of Understanding entered into last week between the bi-state agency and the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. The deal, reached a day before the eleventh anniversary of the terror attacks, cleared the way for work to resume. Construction at the site had halted last year after a funding squabble.
Sally Regenhard, who lost her firefighter son on September 11th, took the Port Authority to task for not sufficiently involving the 9/11 families in the process. "Do not approve this MOU until we can have full public disclosure involving the 9/11 families as well as the community."
Richard Hughes of the Twin Towers Alliance told the panel it was being expedient with their deal with the Memorial and Museum that calls for passing ownership of the former site of the Twin Towers to the non-profit in exchange for adjacent land where the Deutsche Bank building once stood.
"You have eight acres of prime important downtown real estate -- a site that is sacred to all of us -- and you are giving it away or swapping it, but it is really giving it away, without public debate, behind closed doors," Hughes said.
Under the agency's public comment period protocol, Commissioners don't respond directly to the public. But speaking to reporters afterwards, officials defended the deal as breaking a lengthy impasse and insuring the project stays on budget while guaranteeing the site remains a memorial.
Of particular concern to family members at the hearing were the plans to place several thousand of the unidentified remains from the attack in the museum. Boosters of that plan say it will permit work to continue on identifying the remains. The 9/11 families want the surviving families to be polled.
The full board approved the MOU over their objections -- but after the vote, Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye reminded reporters the agency had lost 84 employees in the attack. He said he understood the families' concerns about the remains. "Given the grievous loss those family members experienced that is an issue that resonates with me," Foye said.
But it isn't only how the Port has handled Ground Zero that had members of the public fuming.
Casandra Dock came with residents of of the city of Newark. She chastised the Commissioners for not holding public meetings of the board west of the Hudson in New Jersey.
"I come before this board today -- since this is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- to ask this board to have some of these board meetings over in Newark, New Jersey," Dock said.
In the board's brief public meeting it did move on some items without controversy. John F. Kennedy International Airport will host a animal handling facility that the Port Authority says will be the most comprehensive facility of its kind in the nation. The board also approved the deal with ARK Development LLC to convert a vacant building at JFK into what Foye says will be a state-of-the-art facility that will handle everything from household pets to horses.
"And this facility will provide animal daycare and kenneling services, more efficient animal transport services--a full service veterinary hospital. The facility is expected to serve approximately 70,000 wild and domestic animals a year,"Foye said.
The deal will net the agency more than $100 million dollars in rent over the next 20 years.
The Port also funded a study looking at the feasibility of taking over Atlantic City International Airport. It will also take a look at running its existing PATH train from where it currently ends -- in Newark Penn Station -- out to Newark Liberty Airport.
The latest board actions come as the agency grapples with how to fund some $44 billion dollars in upgrades it says the region's transportation infrastructure will need by 2020.