DUMBO — DUMBO Boulders, the city's waterfront outdoor climbing gym, has reopened several days after two pieces of debris, including a hunk of metal about a foot long, fell off the Manhattan Bridge narrowly missing climbers below, officials confirmed.
MTA officials inspected the train tracks on the Manhattan Bridge, which soar directly above the climbing gym, and deemed them safe, said DUMBO Boulders owner Mike Wolfert — but questions remain about the long-term security of the facility.
Wolfert is trying to convince the city's Department of Transportation to re-string netting under the bridge it had used during construction work last season, or come up with another remedy to ensure the safety of climbers.
"We are pushing for a longer-term solution," Wolfert said. “We’re in talks with Brooklyn Bridge Park. We’re trying to get a direct line of communication open, but we’ve been unsuccessful so far.”
The troubles arose on May 17, on a warm evening with dozens of people using the facility, when a hunk of metal, about 8 inches wide by 1 foot long, thought to be a connecting piece from MTA train tracks, fell off the bridge and smacked into the facility's wooden climbing wall. The impact made a massive banging sound and sent a billowing dust cloud into the air, narrowly missing climbers nearby.
“At first we were like, 'Well that was crazy," Wolfert said, thinking, "It was a one off."
But a few days later a screw fell from the bridge, he said.
“It wasn't as big and scary as the first one," he said, but it spooked them. "That’s when we decided it wasn't an isolated incident and that we had to shut down.”
After the second incident, the climbing wall owners raised their concerns with Brooklyn Bridge Park who contacted the Department of Transportation, which owns the bridge, and the MTA which has a right of way to use it for its trains.
City and state agencies pointed fingers at each other about whose fault it was that the metal had fallen and whose job it was to do something about it.
The DOT deferred to the MTA, while MTA officials pointed out that DOT contractors had taken down the netting that once hung under the bridge trapping falling debris.
When asked for further comment, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz confirmed that the agency had inspected the bridge after the debris fell and said it would continue with regular inspections.
The city's DOT didn't return a request for further comment immediately.
In the meantime, DUMBO Boulders is open, with regular inspections of the bridge as a "Band-Aid" fix, said Wolfert.
“All we have to go on right now is the word of the MTA," he said, cautioning people who are considering a visit to DUMBO Boulders to understand the risks involved. "If you’re not comfortable with that, then make that decision.”