Statement of New York State Senator
Thomas K. Duane at Manhattan Community Board Two's Public Meeting Regarding a Proposed Subway Fan Plant at Mulry Square

September 24, 2007

My name is Thomas K. Duane, and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, which includes Mulry Square, around which MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) is proposing the installation of an emergency ventilation plant ("fan plant").

I would also like to express my appreciation to members of Community Board Two, who brought this issue to my attention. Brad Hoylman in particular, when he was Chair of the Traffic and Transportation Committee, raised this issue long ago, and has ensured that it remains on my and the community's radar.

To be clear, this is not a project that our community would hope to see in an Historic District. An above-ground facility has the potential to disrupt the character of this area, which is marked by low-rise residences, including many historic structures, as well as intimate, ground-floor commercial establishments. It was captured in the art of Edward Hopper, and named in the memory of a great New Yorker, Thomas M. Mulry. It is essential that any above-ground structure take this into consideration. Needless to say, a 60-foot structure, which NYCT officials indicated might be necessary at the Public Information Session on July 11, 2007, would not be appropriate.

Furthermore, fan plants are a sensitive subject in this community. The residents and business owners located just a few blocks away, at 13th Street and Sixth Avenue, endured a much-delayed fan plant installation that closed their streets and blocked their sidewalks for five years; it was only completed earlier this year. This community is legitimately wary of another fan plant project.

For these reasons, I hope NYCTfs Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) will include substantial explanation of why this fan plant is needed for life safety reasons, and why this site is the only feasible -- or least intrusive -- location. To this end, NYCT might also consider providing the community with more thorough information on its 1994 comprehensive ventilation study referenced in the Draft Scoping Document.

I understand that one of the advantages afforded by this site is the ability to minimize cost, time, and environmental impact by constructing just one fan plant to serve two subway lines, since the Seventh and Eighth Avenue lines intersect in the area. It seems that these savings would be found only if some amount of tunneling proves feasible, since if not, a supplementary ventilation plant would be required anyway. If NYCT finds that tunneling is not feasible, and the savings are thus negated, I would hope it would look for more appropriate sites than Mulry Square to build the two plants.

It is common for a community faced with a disruptive municipal development project to be offered mitigations for the hardships it will face, and I appreciate that NYCT is considering several. Most important is the possibility that public space could be included, particularly if the facility is constructed on the site bounded by the fence where the 9/11 memorial tiles currently hang. Long before a fan plant was proposed for the site, the community was calling for it to be converted to park space. In a more recent meeting I had with NYCT, other elected officials, and a representative of Community Board Two, NYCT said it would look to incorporate an area for public use into the project, and I am pleased to see that pledge reflected in the Draft Scoping Document. I hope that the 9/11 tiles, which have become an important memorial for our neighborhood and the City, will be incorporated there or in another public space. Needless to say, it is troubling to note that one of the proposed alternatives would require the removal of existing open space from the area known as the St. Vincentfs triangle.

I urge you to also consider the short-term mitigations that have been previously suggested by community members, such as walls around the construction site to contain dust and noise. Such measures will go a long way toward making this construction project more manageable for the community.

Like much of the Village, this intersection gets heavy pedestrian traffic, but its irregularly angled street crossings that are a result of historical overlays of the Manhattan grid make it a complicated one to traverse. Pedestrian safety is of great importance to this neighborhood, and I am pleased that the Draft Scoping Document indicates that this will be studied. In addition to consulting the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) and New York University Rudin studies, I suggest that NYCT also review the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) study titled "Mulry Square Pedestrian Improvements." Although this study was done in 1994-1995, the core characteristics of the intersection have not changed since then, and many of the community-supported recommendations were not implemented at the time. Should NYCT's construction area overlap with some of the recommendations in the PPS report, I hope it would consider working with DOT to see them implemented where possible.

Finally, it's appropriate that today's meeting is at St. Vincent's, because many of the considerations NYCT will have to make in its evaluation of proposals relate to the Hospital. In its Draft Scoping Document, NYCT indicated that it would be studying the dust and vibrations generated by the fan plant. While these effects would be of concern in any neighborhood, this area is particularly sensitive given its proximity to the hospital, and I urge NYCT to examine how the vibrations and changes in air quality might affect hospital operations, both during construction and eventual operation of the facility; this should include a study of how the smoke coming out of the vent would affect the hospital, were there ever a fire in a subway tunnel. Hospital staff have already indicated to my office that many of NYCT's tunneling proposals are problematic due to their proximity to underground storage areas, which house sensitive materials. Similarly, NYCT should be cognizant of how the vibrations and changes in air quality might affect the area's fragile historic buildings.

Further, St. Vincent's has plans underway to redevelop its own campus, and it is reasonable to anticipate that construction will overlap significantly with that of the NYCT fan plant. That two major construction projects will occur simultaneously in the same few blocks presents a major concern for the residents and business owners who will have to contend with additional hardships like street and sidewalk closures, noise, and dust. I am pleased that representatives of NYCT and St. Vincent's have met preliminarily to discuss some of these issues, and I urge them to continue meeting regularly as their projects progress. Another major consideration is the Hospital's emergency room, and ensuring that the NYCT construction project does not in any way impede access to its entrance.

Once again, I am grateful to NYCT and all the community members for participating in this public meeting, to Community Board Two for leading it, and to my fellow elected officials for co-sponsoring and helping to get the word out. I look forward to continuing our work on this project together.

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