Volume 74, Number 47 | March 30 - April 05, 2005

Villager photo by Josh Argyle

Playing ball last week in Seravalli Playground, part of which was recently fenced off for a five-year water shaft project.

Shaft, not the private dick, but the public dig

By Amanda Kludt

Residents and business owners are bracing themselves for the beginning of major construction on a water shaft site on Gansevoort St. between Hudson and W. Fourth Sts. Beginning last week with preparatory work involving cutting down trees, the project should last another five years including two and a half years of heavy drilling, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The project is part of the $5 billion water tunnel construction effort that has been in the works for over 35 years. The city is building a third water tunnel as a backup so the other two existing tunnels, built in 1917 and 1936, can be inspected.

To build the shaft, workers will drive metal sheeting into the ground to get down to the bedrock. Then they will a drill a small hole into the remaining rock down 500 ft. and drill from the bottom up, removing rock through the tunnel as they go.

Ian Michaels, a D.E.P. spokesperson, concedes the construction may be noisy and intrusive but he insists on the importance of the project. “It’s not pleasant to go through it, but if you want to have a long-term and reliable water supply you have to go through it,” he said noting that in the past much louder explosives were used to blast away the rocks.

Locals are already complaining about a lack of communication with D.E.P. and a general carelessness in the early construction. Stephane Gerbier, owner of Yoyamart, a high-end children’s store, said that D.E.P. didn’t warn the community that they would be cutting down trees on the north side as well as the south side of the street.

Gerbier also said that the construction workers, from Schiavone Construction, left a chainsaw unattended on the ground and didn’t remove the gates blocking the street when they were done. Gerbier said he was particularly frustrated when he saw the chainsaw because a lot of children and parents with strollers go to his store. “They did it so poorly,” Gerbier said. “There is no organization.”

The construction company did not return calls by press time.

Ivy Jeanne Brown, curator of Go Fish Gallery on 675 Hudson St., said she suspects the project will create a noise problem and will cause a major loss in pedestrian traffic on Gansevoort St. She also noted that the community would lose the use of part of Cpl. John A. Seravalli Playground.

Brown said that the construction would require the use of two large generators that would have to operate 24 hours a day seven days a week during the initial construction. The generators are needed to freeze the part of the land that is landfill and not bedrock to solidify the ground so that the shaft won’t collapse.

“We’re already having some noise issues because of the Hotel Gansevoort,” she said, referring to the hotel’s rooftop machinery for its air-heating and -cooling system. She expressed sympathy for the residents of Horatio St., who she said will have to experience most of the noise. “It’s going to be like a subwoofer for them. They’ll be getting a huge amount of noise and vibration.”

The locals have said that they understand the necessity for the construction, but want D.E.P. to listen to their concerns. “My perspective is like we’re in a David and Goliath situation here,” Gerbier said. “But, we don’t want to kill Goliath, we’d like to work with him.”

Brad Hoylman, chairperson of Community Board 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, said C.B. 2 is still “developing a plan of communication with D.E.P.,” and said he hopes construction doesn’t go too far before they can get some assurance in writing. He said the biggest concerns with the project involve noise, disruption to businesses and the structural instability of the century-old building in front of the site at 652 Hudson St.

A resident of 652 Hudson St., Maria Cilenti, said the floor to her daughter’s room on the second floor of the building shakes when cars drive over the metal plates down on the road. She said she wonders what will happen when the drilling starts. However, Cilenti, like Gerbier, mainly worries about communication with D.E.P. “We just want to make sure they know we’re here,” she said.

Hoylman said D.E.P. will offer the community a mitigation package in the range of $2 million for the disruption. Although the specifics of the agreement are still “in flux,” Hoylman expects the money to go to fixing the street and the playground and said he doesn’t expect any remuneration for business owners.

The community has also drafted a memorandum of understanding that is being reviewed by D.E.P. They are requesting a contact person at D.E.P. and a task force that will bridge the gap between locals and the agency. Gerbier has also suggested commissioning the artist David Horvath to paint a mural on the temporary wall surrounding the construction to be later donated to charity.

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