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WTC lawsuit: historic preservation questions at issue in federal court filing.

Just seven weeks after the "Freedom Stone" was laid at Ground Zero, the rebuilding process was dealt another blow when the families of 9/11 victims filed legal action requesting that the construction at the site be temporarily halted until LMDC and the Port Authority adhere to their legally binding commitments to satisfy historic preservation requirements.

The Coalition of 9/11 Families filed a lawsuit on August 26 with the US District Court in New York City against the two agencies. The lawsuit cites the repeated failure of both agencies to adhere to basic historic preservation law, standards and principles mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

"Based on conversations with National Park Service staff, it is our belief that LMDC and the Port Authority began demolition and construction at the site without consulting with the Park Service," said Dr. Joel Klein, of John Milner Associates, the Coalition's historic preservation consultants. "To this day, although construction continues 'on a non-stop basis,' proper historic documentation of the physical remains of the World Trade Center, most importantly, the footprints of the Twin Towers on bedrock, has not been completed."

In April 2004, as part of its compliance with NHPA, the LMDC made a legal commitment to consult with the National Park Service about documenting existing conditions and historic remains at the World Trade Center site by the end of June.

The two agencies issued a joint statement denying the Coalition's allegations: "The Port Authority and the LMDC have worked closely with the coalition and other stakeholders over the past year to take steps to preserve the historical significance and dignity of the World Trade Center site and we are deeply disappointed that they would take this action. We have committed to preserving the original entrance from the Trade Center to the E subway line; we will identify sections of the PATH platforms that cover Trade Center footprints with appropriate architectural treatment; we will preserve artifacts from the remnants of the Trade Center parking garage; and we will uncover the remnants of box beams at the base of the Trade Center site and provide access to victims' family members to view them."

But Patricia Reilly, an executive board member of the Coalition of 9/11 Families, whose sister Lorraine Lee was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks said the agencies are not complying with the law.

"LMDC and the Port Authority could have completed the proper documentation of the footprints and had a meaningful consultation with the National Park Service months ago, and for their repeated failure to do this, they will bear the responsibility of any delays in the redevelopment," said Reilly in a prepared statement.

Larry Silverstein, president of Silverstein Properties, the developer of the site, would not comment about the suit, nor would several prominent New York City law firms.

However, to win, the Coalition's case must pass a three-prong test.

It must convince the judge that the Coalition has a good chance of winning based on the evidence, that the ongoing construction would forever damage the remains and that monetary satisfaction would not suffice as retribution.

With the uniqueness of the case and the sentiments of the nation, the case may tie up the development of the site for an unknown period.

"It is not only important that the artifacts from this most unique tragedy in American history are preserved for future generations, but also that the integrity of the process agreed to by the defendants and as required by law be upheld," said Richard Lippes, co-counsel for the Coalition of 9/11 Families. Although some legal experts say that it may not stop development, but "it may change the way the project will look."
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Title Annotation:World Trade Center; Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Author:Nelson, Barbara
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Sep 8, 2004
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