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More Space On the Way for New Yorkers

Thu April 16, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed

Although it looks toward one of the world’s most populous cities, the 172 acre (69.6 ha) Governors Island in New York Harbor is virtually unknown outside New York City, even though it lies in clear view and is only a seven-minute ferry ride from lower Manhattan.

On Oct. 10, 2008, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other dignitaries were present to observe the start of the demolition of 10 three-story apartment buildings at the southern end of Governors Island. Known collectively as Liberty Village, they were constructed for Coast Guard housing in l988. Having had no maintenance since the structures were abandoned more than a decade ago, the buildings could not meet current city codes.

Nacirema Environmental Services Company Inc., headquartered in Bayonne, N.J., handled the project, which is the first phase of demolition of non-historic structures on Governors Island.

As of this past March, the company is crushing concrete from the site, as well as undertaking site restoration, asphalt removal and topsoil and seeding. The number of Nacirema’s employees varies from eight to 10 a week. They began work on the island in June 2008 and are on schedule for the completion date of the end of April 2009. Nacirema’s subcontractor Nova Development Group Inc., of New Brunswick, N.J., was responsible for the required asbestos abatement.

One of the first buildings demolished was the Super 8 Motel, used as accommodations for guests of Coast Guard families. The structure fell in less than three hours on June 27, 2008. Quarters for unmarried officers and an elementary school for the children of military families based on the island also have been torn down.

An unusual aspect of the job is its location.

“Any equipment or material that needed to be transported from the island or to the island was loaded onto a barge connected to a tugboat that would bring the material to a recycling facility and the equipment back to our offices,” said John Cherchio, president of Nacirema Environmental Services Company Inc.

“All the machinery is company owned,” he added. “We used our Caterpillar 330 and 345 excavators with grapple attachments and a Caterpillar D6 bulldozer on the site.”

Demolition debris was sorted into three types: clean fill that can be reused to create topography in a future park on Governors Island, hazardous material such as lead or asbestos, which was transported to landfills on the mainland, and magnet-separated metal for recycling. The latter was loaded into dumpsters fitted with bar codes. Shipped off the island, once the material arrived at its destination the recycling facility scanned these codes to confirm receipt.

The removal of the buildings will permit the public to use an additional 8 acres (3.2 ha) of open space for the first time this summer. A team led by the Dutch firm West 8 is currently designing a future park for the southern portion of the island. Their park and public space master plan will be released in late May.

Once the future park is completed, there will be more than 90 acres (36.4 ha) of open green space on Governors Island. The northern end of the island, part of which boasts elegant 19th century houses and other structures, also will be improved.

The former military nature of the island means whenever excavation is required for planting trees, erecting signs, or similar jobs to be carried out, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) has experts on hand to check for unexploded ordinances before work begins, as well as an archaeologist in attendance to supervise the digging. However, GIPEC noted, for this particular job neither services were required.

Nacirema Environmental Services Company Inc., was founded in 1998. It performs heavy demolition of industrial and commercial buildings and was responsible for similar projects at Maxwell House in Hoboken, N.J., and the Military Ocean Terminal Base in Bayonne, N.J., as well as demolition of Building 7 at the World Trade Center. Its associated company Nacirema Industries Inc., operates in waste hauling.

About Governor’s Island

The federal government transferred Governors Island to the National Park Service (NPS) and New York City for the symbolic sum of one dollar in 2003. The Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, a partnership between the city and the state, was founded the same year.

Its role is to plan, redevelop and operate 150 acres (60.7 ha) of the island for the benefit of the public. The remaining 22 acres (8.9 ha) forming the Governors Island National Monument includes two forts dating from the early 1810s and is administered by the National Park Service.

Originally purchased by the Dutch from the Lenape Indians in the early 1600s — reportedly for beads, nails and two ax heads — it was the first land settled during the founding of New Amsterdam. The British purchased it from the Dutch in 1708 and built a house for the colonial governor there. Following the American Revolution the island passed into military hands to become, after the building of the forts, part of the nation’s defense system.

The island has been used as a quarantine center and to house Confederate prisoners of war, while in the fall of 1909 Wilbur Wright was the first pilot to take off from the island’s airstrip. He circled the nearby Statue of Liberty, the same flight being the first taken over water.

Governors Island was off limits to the general public for some 200 years since the U.S. Army had a base there until 1966. After they left, the Coast Guard took over the installation, which was finally closed in 1996. The same year then President Bill Clinton spotted the island from the air and asked what it was. Told it had been occupied by the federal government for more than two centuries, he made an offer: the city and state could buy the island back for a dollar, provided it was used for and by the public. The offer was accepted and the island was opened to the public in 2004. In 2008 it had more than 125,000 visitors, double the number. CEG

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