City Defends Search of Trade Center Debris
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The city should not be required to spend tens of millions of dollars to search a second time through the rubble from the World Trade Center for additional human remains, a lawyer for the city recently wrote to a federal judge.
In the legal brief, filed in federal court in Manhattan late last week, the city defended the thoroughness of its first search of more than 1.4 million tons of material from the World Trade Center site. The search took place at the Fresh Kills landfill site on Staten Island and lasted from September 2001 until August 2002. At its height, the recovery effort involved 1,500 law enforcement officials, municipal workers, contractors, and volunteers each day, according to the court brief.
Those efforts have been criticized by a group of relatives of those who died in the terrorist attack. The group, the World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial, claims that the first 414,000 tons of material delivered to Fresh Kills landfill were not searched as thoroughly as was the rubble which arrived later. A lawyer for the city said in the city’s court filing that in 2002 the workers dug up the material that had first arrived in September 2001 and ran it through the mechanical sorting process that had since been put in place.
The group of families has asked a federal judge, Alvin Hellerstein of U.S. District Court in Manhattan, to order the city to dig up and resift through those first 414,000 tons of materials. It has also asked the judge to order the city to remove the buried ashes and dust — presumed to contain cremated remains — from Fresh Kills.
Part of what is fueling these requests is the fact that remains from more than 1,100 of the victims who died in the attacks on the trade center have not been recovered.
The city maintains that the criticism of its search and recovery efforts is simply unfounded.
“The search was conducted with utmost care and solemnity,” the lawyer representing the city, James Tyrrell Jr., wrote. “The possibility that remains of some victims may not have been found in the process of searching the WTC material does not empower this court to order the City of New York to commit tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to resift and relocate the material.”
The city’s filing comes with affidavits supporting its position from the police department inspector who oversaw the search at Fresh Kills, James Luongo, and the sanitation department’s then-director of Fresh Kills, Michael Mucci, among others.
“We continue to strongly disagree with the city’s position and we will respond to their papers,” the lawyer representing the World Trade Center Families for Proper Burial, Norman Siegel, said.