January 1, 2014 at 11:59 AM
by Hayley Camacho
Although start-up and testing recently began in one part of the Croton Water Filtration Plant, it will not be until next April when the rest of the plant begins testing as well, with a solid operational date nowhere in sight.
The news has outraged Bronxites who looked forward to the re-opening of the fenced-off jogging path hugging Jerome Park Reservoir, where part of the plant exists. This also comes amid concerns the plant buried underneath the Mosholu Golf Course is marred with shoddy work relating to the plant’s fire alarm system, according to information received by the Croton Filtration Monitoring Committee (CFMC).
Members met last month, pressing officials with the city Department of Environmental Protection over the lack of a working fire alarm system for the massive project. The DEP has long overseen the project, with construction manager Bernard Daly at the helm for years. He told an audience that work on the “fire alarm system is ongoing” but has not been completed because the plant is still under construction.
Testing of water from the recently filled Jerome Park Reservoir’s north basin began on Dec. 9, Daly reported. The reservoir had been empty since construction on the filtration plant began in 2008. Once the plant is operational, about 30 percent of the city’s water supply will be filtered by the plant.
Delays and Fire Safety Questions
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in talks with city DEP to determine a new completion date for the project, but would not confirm if a supplement to the court-issued consent decree is being negotiated. The current consent decree has a completion date of October 2011.
“The format of that has not been finalized as of yet,” said Doug McKenna, chief of the water compliance branch for EPA Region 2. “It’s not limited to the fire suppression. There were other delays. We know they’re working through it.”
There is no temporary fire alarm for workers at the plant. Fire safety is managed through an emergency evacuation plan that involves several measures such as fire watching patrols.
In most cases, a worker holds a fire extinguisher next to any hot work being performed, said Daly at the meeting. A spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said the agency monitors private contractor projects, not public ones such as the Croton
Water Filtration Plant. Crews have spent nearly 10 years building the plant deep underneath the Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park.
The project is nearly $2 billion over budget and nearly two years behind schedule. The EPA has fined the city $5 million for delays on the project for the past several years.
Sketchy Safety Track Record
But this is not the first time the plant’s been accused of safety hazards. Nearly a year ago, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office reached a $10 million settlement with Siemens Electrical for violating city contracts that required the company to hire minority or women-owned construction
firms. Siemens was also found guilty of submitting false documents that it employed a licensed master electrician at the site.
After the DA’s office announced the settlement, CFMC chair Robert Fanuzzi wrote to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland seeking assurances that safety conditions at the plant had not been compromised by the defective workmanship uncovered by DEP’s on-site integrity monitor.
In May, Strickland wrote to the CFMC saying that “at no time was the health and safety of the workers or public at risk at the plant.” Strickland noted that despite Siemens’ false representation of a master electrician, the quality of the electrical work was not impacted.
He wrote that the construction manager’s oversight of electrical work uncovered that a type of connector in use wasn’t approved for use on the project. Siemens was directed to remove and replace the faulty connectors with approved materials at no cost to the city.
To date, Strickland said this replacement was the only work performed by the company that the DEP found to be deficient. However, additional allegations of code violations have surfaced since Strickland’s response and brought before the latest meeting, including a letter drafted by Robert Solomon, a former Siemens construction manager alleging dangerous conditions at the plant.
Daly assured members that the safety issues were remedied after Siemens report thousands of feet of non-conduit and wire. “We find problems every day but they’re fixed,” Daly said. “That’s why we’re there.”
Daly told the committee that Solomon left the project in 2007 and had visited once since then. He added that he and his staff had “reviewed technical parts of the letter and they are all wrong.”
Bronx Talk TV host Gary Axelbank and long-time Croton watchdog wants an independent review. “There is no way to verify anything that Daly claims and what the letter claims,” he said. “We should have an independent body. That should be who inspects it rather than just say ok.”
Fanuzzi is again looking for clarification. “Within the last two years there have been shifting deadlines,” he said. “A letter explaining about the progress of these consent decrees for these extensions, reasons for the delays and expectations for completion would really satisfy the committee.”