Today’s news:

Collapse at Yards stalls Ratner’s wrecking balls

The Brooklyn Paper

Bruce Ratner’s demolition of the Ward Bakery inside the Atlantic Yards footprint remains blocked by city officials, a week after hundreds of pounds of debris crashed onto Pacific Street as workers began tearing apart the historic building.

One day after the April 26 partial building collapse at 800 Pacific St., a coalition of elected officials — some of them supporters of Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development — called on Gov. Spitzer to halt further demolition work on the 97-year-old building.

Hours later, the Empire State Development Corporation and Ratner voluntarily suspended demolition of the building, pending an investigation into why a large section of the roof broke away.

No one was injured, but more than 300 residents of a nearby homeless shelter were evacuated for several hours. Several cars were badly damaged by the falling debris.

It remains unclear what caused part of the parapet wall of the building to collapse.

An FDNY chief told New York 1 that April’s heavy rains may have been to blame — but whatever the cause, Forest City Ratner Vice President Bruce Bender told the station that his company was not at fault.

“At the time of the purchase, in March, 2006, the building was already in a state of disrepair,” Bender said.

City environmental and buildings officials rushed to the scene after the rubble crashed to the street. Ian Michaels, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said some material in the debris “is known to contain asbestos.”

“The company doing the asbestos abatement work was told to clean it up, and they did,” Michaels added.

Nonetheless, in the wake of the accident, Councilmember David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) reminded state officials that they’d promised to hire a construction overseer who would “be responsible and accountable.”

“This was a very serious accident and there should be no construction or demolition activity at Atlantic Yards until that person is appointed,” Yassky added.

An ESDC spokesman said that the agency is “still in the middle of a search for a monitor that will oversee construction.”

The spokesman, Errol Cockfield, added that the controversial consulting firm AKRF is serving as an “interim environmental monitor.”

AKRF is the city-hired firm that recently issued a much-maligned report that argued that seven houses on Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn could be torn down because they do not have a link to the Underground Railroad.

“Oh, not that firm again,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Prospect Heights) when told that AKRF was working at the Yards site.

In addition to opposing Ratner’s mega-project, James also opposes a city plan to tear down the Duffield houses to make room for a parking lot for a proposed hotel.

Despite the appointment of AKRF as interim monitor, James again called for a permanent overseer.

“There is no one guarding the fox right now,” she said. “After the Ward Bakery collapse, there was a white substance released into the air. No one knows what it is. Is it asbestos? Is someone checking? The fact that we don’t know is a problem because we have children and families living around this site.”

The accident at the turn-of-the-last-century bread factory occurred just a few days after a judge refused to bar demolition work while several lawsuits against the entire project are pending.

The next hearing in one of the cases was scheduled for May 3 — after this issue went to press (see www.BrooklynPaper.com for an update on the legal fight against Atlantic Yards).

With demolition halted on the Ward Bakery, Ratner’s wrecking crew made short work of three buildings this week.

The three buildings — which stand between Dean Street and Fifth Avenue — were the still intact after an Atlantic Yards protest on April 23. But a few days later, one of the buildings was gone and another was partially demolished.

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