May 3, 2005 | David Shuster

WTC: The shame continues

Last month, I spent some time working at MSNBC headquarters in New Jersey.  My hotel room faced Manhattan. And once again, I was confronted with the frustrating and debilitating sight of the huge gaping hole in New York's downtown skyline.  It's now been three and a half years since terrorists took down the Twin Towers.  And the fact that "Al Qaeda's sky-line for New York" has not changed is an abomination.

But what's even more infuriating is the latest proof of incompetence, ineptitude, and mismanagement surrounding the "hallowed ground" where the Twin Towers once stood. Last week, city officials acknowledged that "security concerns" are going to push back completion of the proposed "Freedom Tower" until at least 2009. What are the security concerns?  The tower, under the current plan, is supposed to be built on a part of the pit that is less than 20 meters from two major thoroughfares. I'm at a total loss as to why it would take anybody, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC- the group in charge of reconstruction at Ground Zero) three years and a police report to discover that placing the tower next to busy streets might increase the vulnerability to a truck bomb.    It's also baffling that anybody could look at the bizarre windmill/birdcage design for the top of the skyscraper and not be skeptical. But only recently, after developer Larry Silverstein publicly complained about the engineering hurdles, did the LMDC acknowledge the Freedom Tower design will have to be changed. 

Hello???  The LMDC has been on this for three years!!!  It took me ten minutes on the phone with one engineer to understand the physics that would make the Freedom Tower windmill impossible.  (See my previous blogs listed below for other longstanding problems the LMDC has created, including one that harms the potential for fiber optics.) 

The bottom line is that here we are, three and a half years after 9/11, and the LMDC is only now acknowledging it has no idea what the replacement for the Twin Towers will actually look like or how the "Freedom Tower" will be built.  Talk about reclaiming our skyline... 

Developer Larry Silverstein is nervous about where things stand. And he is now asking the city for tax increases and public financing to help cover the costs. 

New York Senator Chuck Schumer is nervous.  He recently spoke about the ongoing problems and used the phrase "twiddling our thumbs."

Goldman Sachs is beyond nervous. The Wall Street investment firm has already given up. The firm announce recently it is shelving  plans for a new office that was supposed to be part of the project.  

Kevin Rampe has also given up. The man appointed by New York Governor George Pataki to be president of the LMDC (and oversee the entire building effort) recently announced his resignation.

The only person who seems unconcerned is George Pataki. This week, the governor said, "All of this is moving forward well."  Moving forward well? Give me a break. When Governor Pataki finishes last in the 2008 Iowa presidential caucuses, remind me to ask him directly for his definition of "moving forward well."

Let's acknowledge the obvious: The proposed replacement for the Twin Towers is an absolute disaster. The project symbolizes nervousness, defeatism, and outright ineptitude.  That's the worst possible tribute to the victims of 9/11.  And it must not be allowed to continue.

Many of you have suggested  rebuilding the Twin Towers and reclaiming America's pride, determination, resilience, and resolve.  I am happy to report to you that a group you've mentioned repeatedly in your e-mails- - now has a plan that is ready to go.  The group's structural engineer Ken Gardner and architect Herbert Belton (who worked on the original drawings for the World Trade Center) have produced blue prints and building plans for newer, stronger, safer towers.  The architectural plans are also far more detailed than anything put forward by the LMDC for the "Freedom Tower."  And for any reporter or city official who is skeptical, Gardner and Belton have also built a detailed 9-foot "architectural model" to help you "visualize" the proposal.

This week, Gardner sent a letter to New York Governor Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and developer Larry Silverstein. These officials were told about the plans and were invited to "simply take a look."  Gardner is not asking the officials for feedback, a review, or any kind of commitment to the Twin Towers proposal... only that these officials, just to repeat, "take a look."  Such a meeting may take three minutes...  or with New York traffic, it may take thirty. But Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and Mr. Silverstein... is that too much to ask?  Let's be honest here: You owe New Yorkers a little time back.  Three and a half years is an eternity...  and America has put up with al Qaeda's vision for New York City (and tolerated the debacle known as the "Freedom Tower") more than long enough.