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Duck and cover! Steel plummets from Manhattan Bridge near outdoor gym

Climb and punishment: Park picks operator with controversial past to run bouldering wall
Julienne Schaer

It could have been death from above.

A chunk of steel fell from the Manhattan Bridge landing just feet away from patrons of an outdoor rock climbing gym, which stayed open for days as fragments cracked off the crossing because authorities assured its owner there was nothing to worry about.

“The MTA and DOT were trying to tell us it was more of an isolated incident so we took it at face value, but when a second piece fell we said enough was enough,” said Mike Wolfert, who owns Dumbo Boulders on Plymouth and Adams streets in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority and city Department of Transportation officials said the plummeting steel — approximately the size of a piece of paper — was a one-time incident, but when a screw rained down from the bridge days later, Wolfert shut his operation to prevent climbers from getting bonked in the head by future falling fragments.

He announced on Facebook on May 23 the gym would close as it investigated why scraps were tumbling from the span. The piece of steel that fell six days earlier, on May 17, could have killed someone had it landed any closer, according to one witness.

“Dust cloud was thirty feet high. Strangely no one really reacted or realized. I am surprised that no action was taken. Ten feet further away and this piece would have killed,” Oliver Handlos wrote on Facebook.

City and state agencies said that the hunk of metal and the screw fell from the subway tracks that carry the B, D, N, and Q trains, according to Wolfert. The transportation department did not advise the boulders to close after the steel fell, according to a spokesman.

Dumbo Boulders reopened on May 27 after officials told Wolfert they inspected the bridge, tightened the tracks, and will perform regular checkups.

The gym owner is pushing the agencies for more permanent fixes — such as installing netting under the 105-year-old crossing, which the city did temporarily during construction on it in 2014 — but said until those are implemented he cannot do much except trust that officials are telling the truth.

“It’s horrifying. They’ve assured us they’ve addressed it and we kind of have to accept the MTA’s word for it,” he said. “We believe it’s safe now, it’s obviously a temporary fix as they address the major concern of the aging bridge.”

Reps for Brooklyn Bridge Park, which rents the land out to Wolfert, contacted the transit authority and transportation department immediately after the first piece fell. But the park leaves it to vendors to decide whether or not to close their shops, according to a spokesman.

“Decisions about when to close and open are entirely up to our tenants,” he said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority did not respond to requests for comment.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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