More than 200 residents
of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown were left without telephone service Friday
and Saturday after a construction crew working on the nearly completed
Court House apartment building knocked out a Verizon relay box.
DUMBO-based Two Trees Management, owned by father-and-son development team David and Jed Walentas, is building the 321-unit mixed-income high-rise, which will also include a YMCA and ground-floor retail, on Court Street between Atlantic Avenue and State Street. A 700-space, underground parking garage has been in operation at the site since September.
Around 11 am, on Friday, Jan. 7, construction workers excavating the concrete sidewalk along Court Street also dug up and removed the 4-foot-tall, green, metal box that serves as a junction for telephone customers, said Verizon officials. Verizon called police.
Charles Frattini, 43, the project manager for DUMBO-based 30 Main Construction Company — which is owned by the Walentases — was arrested on charges of criminal tampering and criminal mischief after Verizon technicians, alerted by more than 50 calls from customers who complained their telephone service was out, arrived at the construction site and discovered the junction box missing.
“When we got there, there was no box at all,” said Verizon spokesman John Bonomo. He said the pedestal — 8 feet long and 4 feet tall — had been sturdily bolted into the concrete.
“The contractor from [30 Main] told us it had been hit by a truck, and subsequently they took it away for us,” Bonomo said.
“Sometime around the holidays they’d told us that a pedestal box that we had in front of that location needed to be moved off the sidewalk,” said Bonomo.
During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, he said, someone from the construction company had requested — in “fairly vehement terms” — that the box be moved.
One week later, said Bonomo, “we had started the physical work of laying the cables to go to a new connection box,” which he said was in progress when the lines were abruptly ripped out by 30 Main Construction workers.
“Based on the prior conversation we had had back at the holiday’s end, and the fact that the service was technically vandalized … we take that very seriously,” Bonomo said.
Verizon called police at the 84th Precinct, who arrested Frattini at the site.
A spokesman in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said Wednesday that his office had not filed charges against Frattini, 30 Main Construction or the Walentases regarding the removal of the Verizon box.
Jed Walentas said the removal of the Verizon pedestal was an accident.
“Charlie [Frattini] was arrested because Verizon was upset about the accident, and he was released the same day,” said Walentas.
“I feel terrible that people lost their phone service,” he said. “Somebody made a mistake and I appologize for it. “There’s a risk that comes with construction and we do our best. On balance I’m pretty proud of our record in minizing disruptions to the community.”
Councilman David Yassky’s district office, across Court Street from the construction site, was among those that lost phone service.
“This seems like an accident,” said Yassky spokesman Evan Thies. “It was a huge, huge mistake, but it seems like the first mistake that the crew has made.”
Eugene Sparano, a union organizer with the New York branch for the AFL-CIO in Building and Construction Trades, told The Brooklyn Papers that any laborer, union or non-union, would know better than to remove a telephone relay box.
“People don’t just do things like this,” he said. “You don’t just tear up a Verizon panel carrying God knows how many phone lines.”
“The developer has no regards for the community,” said Sparano, who spends his days monitoring construction sites where non-union workers are employed, often accompanied by a giant inflatable rat.
Two Trees employs both union and non-union labor at the Court House site.
Ironically, according to the city Department of Transportation, the sidewalk construction shouldn’t have happened at all — a DOT permit authorizing such work had expired and was not yet renewed.
DOB records show two stop-work orders for expired permits were issued Dec. 29.
On Monday following the Verizon incident, the DOT issued eight violations to 30 Main Construction, adding to the eight already recorded and totaling $6,100 in fines, according to agency spokesman Craig Chin.
Jed Walentas said that all necessary permits were in place prior to their once-a-year expiration.
“We’re dillegenly pursuing getting the violations removed and working with the DOB and DOT in getting the permits reinstated,” he said.
Kenneth Lazar, a Buildings Department community liaison, said that as of Jan. 3, his department had received a request to re-issue necessary work permits for the Court House site.
“It is their responsibility to renew their permit in a timely manner,” he said.
Pat Mazzei, a Bricklayers Local 1 overseer working on the Court House project, said that shortly after the Verizon incident on Friday he watched water gush onto Atlantic Avenue from a fire hydrant at the site whose cap had been opened.
“If a construction site wanted to use a hydrant they would need to get a permit — maybe a meter, too — and typically somebody from [the Department of Environmental Protection] would show up to turn the thing on and turn the thing off,” explained Ian Michaels, a DEP spokesman.
Though he was unable to comment on whether the Court House site had a permit to use city water, Michaels said that if a site was permitted to use the water “a hydrant would never run full-blast for an hour,” as witnesses reported on Friday.
Asked if the incident involving the removal and disappearance of the Verizon box was common among construction jobs, Bonomo said, “No, definitely not.”
“Occasionally we get contractors that do dig up cables. It happens, and you know, accidents happen. I’m not sure this is … the same beast,” Bonomo said of the box removal.
Jed Walentas said his company helped located the Verizon box and returned it.
Bonomo said it was reconnected and that by Saturday evening, all service had been restored.
©2005 Community News Group
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