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Ground Zero Cleanup Ahead of Schedule

The Weeks 500 and 524 cranes had unloaded 481,000 tons of debris (34,139 truckloads) from the World Trade Center by January 20 at the Pier 25 site. At Pier 6, the Weeks 504 had unloaded 160,000 tons of structural steel (13,924 truckloads) by the same date.

“It is going faster than they thought it would originally,” said Joe Ruff, assistant project manager for the unloading sites. Marty Cochran is project manager. “They thought it would take a solid year, but now they are saying it might be completed in May,” said Ruff.

On Monday, December 4, I met Rudy Wohl, port captain and QI (qualified individual) for Weeks Marine, at the Weeks Greenville Yard near Port Jersey. The crew boat Potomac River, leased from Seatow of North Carolina, took us past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island before heading northeast toward Pier 25. Cranes working at Ground Zero were visible beyond the buildings as we pulled up to the dock next to the 500

Meeting us as we disembarked, Ruff said that by the end of November they had handled 16,000 truckloads of debris and 4200 truckloads of steel. Weeks is subcontracted to AMEC for removal of the WTC debris and structural steel by barge. The debris goes to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, and the steel to recyclers in New Jersey.

Weeks has a de-tarping station to remove tarps from trucks that do not have automatic tarp rollers. The truck and load are then watered for dust control, and the truck proceeds to the apron next to the crane, where it dumps into the scale pan, and the crane empties the pan into the barge. About 50 truckloads can fit into a barge, depending on the size of the barge, said Ruff.

Weeks is running two 12-hour shifts per day on the project. Each crew consists of two crane operators, two Dockbuilders Union members, who do traffic control and rigging, three laborers who support the cranes and do dust suppression, and management personnel.

At Ground Zero, the badly-damaged Building 6, a customs building, is being demolished, and all debris from that building goes into a separate barge for examination by customs officials at a 16-acre site at Fresh Kills.

Pier 25 belongs to the Hudson River Trust, Ruff explains. On September 11 the slip was six feet deep, and the Trust was instrumental in getting the permits to dredge to the current 15 feet “incredibly fast, in one weekend,” he said.

Trucks taking structural steel from Ground Zero go to Pier 6 on the East River, where the Weeks 504 unloads them onto deck barges. All filled barges go to a staging area in Brooklyn just across the river from Pier 6, and are taken in tows of three or four to Staten Island and New Jersey.

Asked if the job has become an ordinary project, rather than the cleanup of a tragedy, Ruff says that it seems ordinary until he begins the drive home, or when personal items such as photo albums show up in the debris.

We walk down West Street toward the site.

"The restricted zone has been shrinking,” says Ruff. “The Salvation Army tent that covers half a city block used to be a block farther north, and is now closer to Ground Zero. All the volunteer organizations did a fantastic job,” he said. “The Salvation Army had food, clothes, boots, counselors and even massage therapists. At first there were search and rescue dogs, and people were donating little boots to protect the dogs’ paws.”

We pass the wash station for trucks leaving the area bound for Pier 25. They are hosed down to keep the dust and dirt in the area and to cool down any material that is still burning or hot.

At the World Trade Center site the excavation is far below ground level. Excavators and loaders are working in the hole, and two ramps have been built, one on the east and one on the west side. As we watch, backhoes uncover burning debris, and smoke billows from the area. At the perimeter, concrete workers are drilling tie rods to stabilize the slurry wall. The site is a big concrete bathtub, which will fill with water if the wall gives way, and we get a good view of the tie rods, cables snaking out of the south wall at even intervals about 10 feet from the top. We can see workers on the east wall drilling into the concrete a full story down.

Huge banners adorn the surrounding buildings: “Local 15 Harbor Operating Engineers”, “Port Security Police We Salute You.”

"They’ve got the best equipment in the country and the best personnel running this show, says Ruff. He points out an enormous Manitowoc 21000 crane with a 600 foot boom and jib and 1000 ton lifting capacity. Owned by All Erection and Crane Rental of Cleveland, Ohio, it was shipped from Cleveland to New York the week of September 18 with police escort the whole way. A 2250 crane was completed that same week by Manitowoc at their Wisconsin facility, was shipped immediately to New York with police escort from the Illinois line. This crane has a 300 ton lifting capacity and is also owned by All Erection. These cranes cost $150,000 to $200,000 to move, said Tom Cioni, public relations coordinator at Manitowoc, who has eight cranes working at Ground Zero.

Half of building 6 is still standing, and I focus on a blue wall with three framed documents hanging on it as high-pressure water showers the building. A crane belonging to local contractor Mazzochi Construction grabs the girders with a shear, cutting and pulling them away from the building. They cut the supports every 15 feet, and then go in with a wrecking ball.

Most of the gold stored in the WTC has been found, says Ruff, but the other day a truck driver, after dumping his load, found a gold ingot still in the bed, encrusted with dirt.

The air seems pure enough, and few people are wearing masks. An OSHA official is in full respiration gear, but other than that, the only required gear is a hard hat and steel toed boots, as on any construction site.

Everyone is busy; we seem to be the only ones standing and looking.

The public is not allowed on the site, but a viewing stand has been erected, and selected groups of people are brought to view the area. On Thursday, November 29, Port employees whose offices were in the building were brought here, and flight attendants and pilots can make appointments to visit the site, accompanied by counselors.

Back on the Hudson River, we navigate around the tip of the island to Pier 6 where the Weeks 504 is unloading structural steel from the WTC onto a 180- by 54-foot deck barge. The trucks hold 10 to 15 tons of steel per load.

The debris removal project easily met the deadline of having the entire site at ground level by New Year’s Day.

"The equipment has been holding up, and it has a nice pace to it, giving the firemen adequate time to search each load,” said Ruff at the end of January. “The weather has been exceptional, which is a major factor in how the project has gone, he said.”

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