Confusion, frustration and anger are being elicited by the Port Authority’s pending plan to build a second entrance to the Ninth St. PATH station in the state and federally recognized Stonewall Historic District in Greenwich Village.
The Port Authority, with the approval of the city’s Department of Transportation, has issued a request for proposals to select a contractor to perform an environmental impact statement for the expansion of the Ninth St. station.
The emotion grows from a lack of information, and the seemingly imminent decision to go through with plans — regardless of what local residents, businesses and historic preservation organizations have to say.
“At community meetings, the Port Authority representatives didn’t show adequate concern for the danger they pose to these buildings,” said Ron Kopnicki, who heads West Village against PATH. “They think they can do this, and everything will be fine,” he said, “but these are fragile, historic buildings.”
Steven Coleman, spokesperson for the Port Authority, which owns and operates the PATH commuter train system, counters, “We won’t be able to make any statement or judgment until the environmental impact statement is complete.” Until that time, he said, no construction will commence, and no possible locations for the new entrance will be disclosed to the public.
The 18-month E.I.S. is supposed to examine whether the project will jeopardize or benefit the area, but the criteria have not yet been made public. The Port Authority hasn’t even selected a contractor yet to conduct the study, making information even more challenging to obtain.
While Port Authority officials will no longer confirm the exact location of the proposed entrance, those in the community say officials were eyeing the corner of Christopher and Waverly Sts. The location holds tremendous value to the gay community as the Stonewall Historic District — designated in 1999 — where gays launched the 1969 Stonewall rebellion in the fight for equal rights.
Kopnicki also adds that community members disagree with the Port Authority’s conviction that one or more new entrances/exits are needed because of overcrowding that would be especially problematic in the event of an emergency.
The PATH stations at Christopher and Ninth Sts. have been in use since 1908, and no such evacuation has been necessary thus far. The overcrowding issue, largely a result of Sept. 11, has seemingly abated since the reopening of the World Trade Center station in November 2003, according to the group Citizens Against Government Waste.
“Honestly, I’m not sure what the benefit would be,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. He also noted a lack of information being offered by the Port Authority, the last correspondence between them dating back two years. Referring to the single Ninth St. entrance, he said, “The condition has existed for many years.” Berman added that his main concern would be a significant increase of pedestrians in an extremely narrow location.
The Port Authority requested $26.9 million for the project from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but was denied in January 2003. FEMA said the proposed entrances did not qualify for such relief funds. The Port Authority has since decided to finance the project using its own capital-improvement funds.
The multimillion dollar construction project could last as long as 18 months, if not longer.
The Port Authority is not commenting much about the project’s specifics because the E.I.S. has not yet begun. While initial plans included talk of a second entrance for the Christopher St. station, Coleman said they are now only considering the Ninth St. station. He noted that the solution they find for the Ninth St. station could very well resolve the issue of the Christopher St. station — if a link is created between them.
Until more information is disclosed, opposition grows. Those eager to find out more information include G.V.S.H.P., the Christopher Street Preservation Alliance, West Village against PATH, Community Board 2, City Councilmember Christine Quinn and Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
Said Glick: “The Port Authority’s previous attempt to expand this station did not include the performance of an E.I.S. and its failure to do so was an indication of their unwillingness to listen to the community. This time they have initiated a more usual process for large-scale construction, although the need for the expansion is still questionable and the plans that have previously been presented are deeply flawed. The E.I.S. will require the Port Authority and their chosen contractor to consider several options including a no-build option.”
Glick added that Port Authority will be required to hold multiple public hearings in order to determine the scope of the E.I.S. and the public’s reaction to a draft and final E.I.S.
“I remain adamantly opposed to the expansion proposal,” Glick said — calling it “an unnecessary, dangerous and costly project.”
“The issue is not if there will be a benefit or not,” said Matt McGhee, who has a gift shop on Christopher St. “The real issue is the risk is too great to lose historic buildings.”