Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Crumbling Infrastructure, Gas Explosions, Hospital Closings, and No Permanent NYC Buildings Department Head

At press conference, Consolidated Edison said that a report about a gas leak was made at 9:13 a.m. this morning, but others have been warning about city's crumbling infrastructure for far longer than that.

The explosion and collapse of two adjacent apartment buildings in Spanish Harlem raised fresh concerns that New York City government is not adequately dealing with the city's infrastructure problems.

Carmen Vargas-Rosa, a member of the Spanish Christian Church, which was destroyed by a gas explosion, spoke with CBS 2 New York news, saying that there had been a gas leak several months ago in one of the buildings that collapsed earlier today. It's not known why ConEdison did not detect other problems with the buildings after it inspected the previous repairs. A tenant in one of the collapsed buildings, Ruben Borrero told The New York Daily News that for a period of several months dating back to last fall, several tenants had sought help for reports about gas problems by calling the city's 311 help service, adding that once, just before last Christmas, firefighters responded to complaints. The report by The New York Daily News indicated that, "The tenants’ claims contradict Mayor de Blasio’s statement Wednesday that the 'only indication of danger' came 17 minutes before the explosion when a tenant next door called Con Ed about a gas smell." One of the buildings also had indications of structural cracks dating back to 2008, The New York Times reported, which raises questions about lax code enforcement by the city's Department of Buildings. Complicating the rescue and recovery efforts, a large sinkhole opened up in front of the collapsed buildings. Officials are trying to determine if a a water main break may have caused the sinkhole, The New York Times reported.

They mayor may not want to accept responsibility for the city's negligence in not fully inspecting the infrastructure and utilities around the collapsed buildings, but New Yorkers deserve that he do something about it. The history of previous gas problems at these buildings are examples of other problems with New York City's aging and deteriorating infrastructure. The bursting of water mains are a common occurrence in New York City, and who can forget the spectacular 2007 explosion of the steam pipe in Midtown.

As the city makes excuses for why it was O.K. for fire rescue and other first responders to arrive after the gas explosion in Spanish Harlem when there indications of impending danger, let's consider how the warning signs about the city's crumbling infrastructure have always existed. Thousands of miles of main gas lines in New York City are decades old, The Christian Science Monitor reported. WNYC reported that the gas main that runs near the buildings, which exploded and collapsed, is 127 years old. Last year, it was reported that a building was damaged by a partial collapse in Chinatown. The aging and collapse of city buildings comes on top of a report published today by Politicker, where the mayor was unapologetic for not having yet appointed a permanent head for a major city infrastructure agency.

Isn't it about time that the mayor got around to finally appointing a permanent commissioner to head the city's Department of Buildings ? After that, the de Blasio administration should complete an assessment of the city's crumbling infrastructure, map it against prior complaints, and prioritize the renewal of the city's basic physical and organizational structures, facilities, and utilities. And he should use this opportunity to make the city go green. Get rid of that dangerous Spectra natural gas pipeline running under the West Village.

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