The New York City Police Department’s plan for security at the World Trade Center is akin to building a “Berlin Wall” around the area, a group of residents of Lower Manhattan said in a lawsuit against the department.
The World Trade Center Neighborhood Alliance, a group of people who live and work in the area, filed the suit in state Supreme Court in Manhattan today, saying the NYPD’s security plan for the area would create an “isolated fortress downtown,” tie up traffic and pollute the air.
Residents would have access to their homes blocked by physical barriers under the plan, will be required to show credentials to reach their homes and will be “overrun” by thousands of tourists from tour buses, the alliance said in the petition.
Barriers and checkpoints will make the area “as impervious to vehicle traffic as the Berlin Wall,” the alliance said. “The Trade Center will effectively be turned into a walled fortress, devoid of any local traffic and accessible only to those willing and able to get through guarded checkpoints.”
The city’s Law Department said in a statement that the importance of security at the site “cannot be overstated” given the two terrorist attacks there in the past 20 years and that car and truck bombs pose “very real and serious risks.”
Construction must move ahead so the security measures can be implemented as the site becomes operational, the Law Department said. The first skyscraper at the site, the 72-story 4 World Trade Center, opened yesterday and 1 World Trade Center -- deemed the tallest tower in the U.S. earlier this week -- is scheduled to be completed in January.
“The 1993 attack on the World Trade Center was a truck bomb -- and the security plan guards against vehicle bombs by screening automobiles,” the Law Department said. “Pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to freely enter and move about the site. The environmental review that is being challenged was a thorough and public process.”
The plan would create a perimeter around the 16-block parcel bounded by Vesey Street on the north, Liberty Street on the south, Church Street on the east and West Street on the west, according to project documents posted on the NYPD’s website. The total cost for the NYPD to secure the four access points will be $44 million in fiscal year 2014, according to an overview of the department’s preliminary budget prepared for a city council hearing in March.
Tenants of World Trade Center offices, operators of for-hire and delivery vehicles, and residents and owners of businesses in the area would be given credentials that would allow them to drive into the site after going through an expedited screening process, according to the document.
The alliance is seeking a declaration that an environmental impact statement for the security plan failed to meet city and state requirements and asked Justice Margaret Chan to block implementation of the plan until it complies, or at least until their challenge is resolved in court.
“The NYPD is already in the process of implementing the campus security plan, including the installation of physical barriers and guard houses, and unless restrained by the court at this point will have completed some or much of the infrastructure the petitioners seek to prevent,” the alliance said in the court filing provided by its lawyers, which couldn’t be immediately verified in court records.
The plaintiffs are also seeking an order allowing them to examine NYPD records, saying the department and other agencies have failed to respond to requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
Many residents of the area would have to go through security checks just to get to their homes under the security plan, Albert K. Butzel, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Chan during a hearing this afternoon in Manhattan.
“They’re returning the Trade Center site to the same kind of fortress it was in the old days,” Butzel said.
Daniel Greene, an attorney representing the city, told Chan the plan is essential to the security of the site and that local residents were given numerous opportunities to present their views on security.
“We need to keep this site safe,” Greene said. “The buck stops with the NYPD.”
Chan declined to rule on the alliance’s request for a temporary restraining order, saying she will make a decision next week.
More than 2,700 people died when terrorists crashed hijacked jets into each of the twin towers of the original World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks destroyed both skyscrapers plus four nearby office buildings and a hotel.
In addition to 1 and 4 World Trade Center, plans for the site call for two more office towers, a transit hub designed by Santiago Calatrava, a 9/11 museum and a performing arts center. A memorial to the victims opened in 2011.
The case is WTC Neighborhood Alliance v. New York City Police Department, 101498/2013, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).