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U.S. Mission vs. New York in Crane Safety Controversy

By Stewart Stogel   |   Thursday, 05 Jun 2008 09:51 AM

Almost a week after the fatal collapse of a construction crane on Manhattan's Upper East Side, New York authorities still are not quite sure what prompted the disaster.

Press reports have centered on a "suspect" defective welding repair made on the collapsed crane several weeks ago. Meanwhile, as the investigation continues, many are wondering just how safe are the other crane operations in New York City.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that he believed such operations in general are safe and that residents "had nothing to fear." However, one project that has raised eyebrows is the construction of the new U.S.-U.N. mission located just across the street from U.N. headquarters and only blocks away from the two recent crane collapses, one last Friday, the other in March 2008.

In the March incident, seven people were killed. Last Friday, two more fatalities occurred.

The U.S. mission project is being supervised by the same construction company that oversaw the site where the Friday accident occurred. It was also one of the developers of the building of the March collapse.

The company, DeMatteis Construction Corporation of Elmont, is among the 25 largest in the New York City area. There have been repeated allegations in the press of the company’s possible ties to organized crime, though such allegations have never been substantiated.

At the U.S. mission site, it is not quite clear just who is actually supervising construction.

Last Friday, as police, hospital and fire dept. officials rushed to the scene of the accident, some of the emergency responders passed directly by the U.S.-U.N. mission where construction (including crane operations) proceeded as normal.

The fact that two other DeMatteis projects in the immediate area had experienced serious accidents within the past 90 days, resulting in nine deaths, had no apparent impact on business at the U.S. mission site.

In a telephone interview with Newsmax, U.S./U.N. spokesman Ben Chang explained that federal construction projects are exempt from local codes and jurisdiction. Chang added that while the U.S. government normally works with local officials, it is not obligated to do so.

And that raises concerns, especially among businesses and residents.

On Friday, New York City’s acting buildings commissioner, Robert D. LiMandri, issued an order that was originally reported to have included a four-day suspension of all crane activity pending an investigation.

The order was then "clarified" to include "tower cranes," then clarified again to include just Kodiak company tower cranes. The order created confusion, especially among the media as to just what was covered in the ban. That confusion continued this week when the Buildings Department insisted that last week's ban was only aimed at the assembly or disassembly of certain cranes within New York City.

So, countless cranes continued to operate throughout the day of the disaster even before investigators had any idea of the cause of the accident.

Moreover, operations continued within earshot of the U.N. General Assembly delegates entrance. It is the same entrance that President Bush has used and will use again when he attends this year's General Assembly meeting in September.

When asked if any precautionary inspections were undertaken at the U.S. mission since last Friday's accident, Director of Communications Ric Grenell explained that he had been assured that the project is in compliance with all federal laws, but could not comment on any recent inspections or even if they occurred.

Grenell explained that the General Services Administration (GSA) has responsibility for the project and for overseeing DeMatteis. Grenell then stated that GSA officials were unwilling to speak to the press.

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