Ikea hit with asbestos fines

Following an investigation and order to halt demolition on a Civil War-era
building on Red Hook’s waterfront that was found to contain large
quantities of asbestos, the Department of Environmental Protection issued
18 violations to contractors clearing the land for Ikea.

Although Ikea spokesman Jamie Van Bramer originally claimed Ikea was uninvolved
because a sale of the land to Ikea had not yet been completed, calls placed
to Breeze Demolition, the contractors performing the demolition, were
referred to Ikea this week.

Ikea, the international Swedish home furnishings giant, gained city approval
last summer to build a $70 million, 346,000 square-foot store on the former
New York Shipyard, and has plans to build a parking lot where the buildings
stand along Beard Street between Ostego and Dwight streets. But prior
to the asbestos discovery, state and city preservationist groups and the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had asked the demolition be halted until
the historical value of the Civil War-era pump house could be determined.

The groups were ignored, but work was halted on Jan. 12 due to the asbestos
discovery.

Van Bramer did not return repeated phone calls to comment for this article.

The dredging company was charged with 10 violations, which DEP spokesman
Ian Michaels said would cost from $1,200 to $4,800 apiece. The demolition
company was charged with eight additional violations, totaling $86,400
in potential fines.

And that’s if the judge isn’t in a bad mood. Though the fine
schedule usually dictates violation charges, Michaels noted, “The
legislation of these fines allows charges of up to $10,000 per fine. So
if the judge at the Environmental Control Board wants to issue fines up
to that, he or she could,” ultimately setting the company back $180,000.

That’s not including the labor fines.

The Daily News reported that the state Department of Labor has also issued
a $3,000 fine for endangerment of workers, since the demolition company
was not qualified to handle asbestos.

The company was found to be in violation for not having filed asbestos
work, failing to monitor the air, not posting any warnings, failure to
construct decontamination protections before disturbing the asbestos-containing
materials, and doing nothing to protect and decontaminate the material,
as well as the workers and building waste.

But even the mounting charges, which will be determined in front of the
ECB on March 15, and repeat offenses did not deter some of the avid supporters
who helped to bring Ikea into Red Hook.

“Personally, knowing the Ikea people, they’re not going to do
something if they thought they were going to jeopardize their relationship
with the community,” said Ray Hall, director of Red Hook Rise, which
has worked with the Swedish furniture store on local hiring initiatives.
“They’re coming into this community to do a good thing.”

Red Hook Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez reiterated the point.

“Every time they’ve had a problem they’ve stepped to the
plate,” she said. “My office has continued to speak to them
and from the get-go it was clear this was the right decision for this
community.”

Asked if she had concerns about future issues with the Ikea construction
that could imperil the health of her constituents, and whether she would
hold Ikea responsible for disclosure in the future, she hedged.

“Of course, we’re very, very concerned about public safety,
and from day one, health and safety was our biggest concern. Anything
that was done was going to protect the environment and protect the public
safety,” she said.

“Anything that’s going to jeopardize the public safety we have
to be sure to be on top of. If the agency is working on it, we’re
going to have to ensure they are on top of it,” Gonzalez said, referring
to the DEP.

But asked again if her office planned to seek to hold Ikea accountable,
she replied, “I’ve been constantly involved with Ikea and Joni
Yoswein and the people there, to ensure the safety of the community was
before anything.”

At a meeting of the Community Board 6 Public Safety and Environment committee,
Lou Sones, a Red Hook activist, moved to have the board re-examine their
support of the Ikea development.

“I called the city [when the demolition began],” Sones said.
“Before they’ve even opened up, Ikea has already effectively
broken the law 18 times.”

He also hoped that the board could write a letter to the state Department
of Environmental Conservation to urge inspection of all 14 buildings on
the site before any further demolition commences, “to make sure they’re
not all riddled with asbestos.”

“They should have to go through ULURP all over again,” Sones
said, referring to the city land use review that Ikea had to pass to gain
approval for the construction.

Hall said Sones was being petty.

“All these guys do is come out to fight things that are good for
Red Hook. Everything is about The Back, The Back,” said Hall, referring
to the non-public housing portion of the neighborhood that is closer to
the waterfront.

“Nobody cares about the red brick houses out here,” he said,
referring to he Red Hook Houses, where unemployment is high and the promise
of jobs rallied the support of the public housing’s leaders to Ikea.

Said Sones, “Ikea already has a flawed track record as far as endangering
the community with environmental hazardous waste — and they’re
not even here yet.”

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