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Construction Crew Hit With $67K in Fines After Lying About Asbestos: City

By Nicholas Rizzi | October 6, 2014 11:54am
 Protesters rallied outside Mount Manresa to call on the city to stop work after asbestos was found in some of the buildings.
Protesters rallied outside Mount Manresa to call on the city to stop work after asbestos was found in some of the buildings.
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Barbara Sanchez

FORT WADSWORTH — The city has issued more than $67,000 in violations to builders working on the demolition of the historic Mount Manresa who said there was no asbestos in the building — despite city inspectors later finding the potentially deadly material.

The developer, contractor and asbestos investigator responsible for tearing down the former Jesuit retreat house were issued notices of violations by the city's Department of Environmental Protection after they filed paperwork saying there were no traces of the material in their application for demolition permits, a DEP spokesman said.

Borough President James Oddo sent a letter to the Department of Investigations on Friday asking inspectors to look at the work done on the controversial project in light of the violations — and halt all demolition on it until their investigation is complete.

"I'm not sure if it was negligence or incompetence or something worse. I'm really troubled with this," Oddo said. "You can see the dots and I think it's fair for the public and the elected officials to attempt to connect those dots ... You don't find what you don't want to find."

The asbestos inspector, Gaspare Santoro, got hit with 21 infractions after he filed a report in April for the Savo Brothers developers and said there was no asbestos at the site, a spokesman for the DEP said.

The DEP tested the site in August, following complaints from neighbors, and found asbestos in one of the demolished buildings, a spokesman for the agency said.

The Department of Buildings issued a full stop-work order on the site on Sept. 8 but it was changed to a partial one on the 15th so workers can do abatement for asbestos.

Santoro was issued a notice for violations ranging from failure to address all asbestos material at the site, failure to provide a complete survey report and for engaging in unprofessional activity, the DEP spokesman said.

The violations come with fines of $37,200. He can still argue against the charges before he has to pay, officials said.

"There’s a range of things that could happen, up to and including a suspension and loss of his license," the DOB spokesman said.

Oddo said Santoro only took 19 samples at the site, while a new investigator — monitored by the city — took 300. While the DEP said they're waiting for the results next week, Oddo said they've already found asbestos in other buildings at the site.

"Stop this project in its tracks and say to the other agencies, 'do not issue additional permits until we take a look at how we got here'," Oddo said. "Nothing should happen until DOI has a chance to look at all these dots and see if they’re connected."

The Save Mount Manresa group, which campaigned to stop the building being pulled down and replaced by condos, rallied at the site over the weekend to protest. Members said they fear the proper precautions are not being taken by workers.

"People live in very close proximity to Mount Manresa. It's the fall, we leave our windows open. There's a good chance that this stuff got into our home," said Barbara Sanchez, the group's secretary.

"They're supposed to be doing abatement, but we are not confident that the precautions are in place to protect us."

Developers Savo Brothers and the contractors were also issued several violations, mainly for not correctly notifying people asbestos was found on the site, officials said. Savo Brothers could pay  $19,200 and the contractor $11,000, the DEP said.

Savo Brothers did not respond to requests for comment and a phone number for Santoro was not in service.

Santoro has previously been in trouble with the city. In 2004 he was given two years probation for "grossly negligent failure to comply with the substantial provision of local laws governing the practice of architecture" on a different city project, the Staten Island Advance reported.