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Build it Back Taps 9/11 Museum Bigwig to Help Struggling Program: Sources

By Katie Honan | September 30, 2016 12:18pm | Updated on October 3, 2016 8:49am
 Luis Mendes is also a former assistant commissioner at the Department of Design and Construction.
Luis Mendes is also a former assistant commissioner at the Department of Design and Construction.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan/9/11 Memorial and Museum

BROAD CHANNEL — The city has tapped a respected construction expert — who worked to clean up Ground Zero after the 9/11 terror attacks — to help its foundering Build It Back program get back on track, according to multiple people briefed on the plan.

Luis Mendes — who is currently the executive vice president of design, construction and facilities at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum — will help the struggling Hurricane Sandy rebuilding program meet some of its construction deadlines, Build It Back director Amy Peterson announced at a closed-door meeting in Queens Monday, multiple sources told DNAinfo New York.

Mendes was the former assistant commissioner for special projects at the Department of Design and Construction, where he oversaw cleanup efforts at Ground Zero after Sept. 11, 2001.

Mendes did not return a call seeking comment on Thursday, and a spokesman from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum declined to comment.

Build It Back spokesman Raul Contreras said, "Build it Back is always looking for well-qualified individuals with diverse backgrounds to help manage our projects and get homeowners back into safe and resilient housing."

Peterson announced Mendes' hiring on Monday at a monthly Build It Back task force meeting at Borough President Melinda Katz's office, saying he would be the chief of operations for the program, according to Dan Mundy, Jr., a civic leader from Broad Channel.

Peterson said Mendes will oversee logistics, working on the multi-agency requirements needed for each individual project, Mundy added. 

Arthur Lighthall, the general manager of the Breezy Point Cooperative who also attended the meeting, said he hoped the new hire would move projects along — but was doubtful of his overall impact.

"He's coming in a little late to handle the disaster of the Build It Back process," he said. 

The multi-billion-dollar project has come under fire from past administrators, participants and elected officials alike — as critics say it's been plagued by delays, cost overruns and other issues.

Last week, the city announced it needed an additional $500 million in federal dollars to complete the rebuild and elevation projects from the Build It Back program — despite more than half of the program's original applicants dropping out. 

At a city council hearing on the program, Peterson cited rising construction costs, new city buildings codes built after Hurricane Sandy, design changes and other factors for the half a billion dollar increase. 

Last fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared the program would be completed by the end of 2016 — a goal many involved in the program say is impossible. 

The mayor is set to make a "major" announcement on Build It Back within the week, officials were told at the meeting.

In the meantime, his office has been unable to provide updates on the program — with a spokesman saying they will have updates "soon" when asked for the number of homeowners still in the program, and how much money has already been spent.