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Community Board 1 Passes Resolution Urging Relocation of Terror Trial; NYPD Meeting Friday

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CB1's Julie Menin

By Paulina Reso

Community Board 1 reconvened last night to grapple with its resolution urging federal officials to consider moving the 9/11 terror trial from the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

The executive committee’s resolution, passed last Wednesday, suggested Governors Island as an alternative, and was revised to include three additional sites. The Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburg, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Federal jail complex at FCI Otisville were offered as alternatives. The motion, and an amendment including the alternative locations, was unanimously supported by the full board last night.

“We’re in no way trying to say, ‘Let’s get it out of our community and stick it in someone else’s community,’ said Julie Menin, the board’s chairperson. “What we’re saying to the Attorney General is, ‘Please, do a feasibility study. Look at the cost. Look at the security and also look at neighborhood impact.’”

The trials, expected to last several years, would cost about $200 million dollars, according to NYPD estimates. As the fourth largest commercial business district in the country, business owners in Chinatown are worried  the onerous security measures will present yet another hurdle for a community still struggling to get back on their feet 9 years after 9/11.

Additionally, residents are concerned about the psychological hardship of passing through police checkpoints and walking their children past snipers on rooftops on their way to school.

“I really can’t see us being victimized again,” said board member Diane Lapson.

Menin wrote an op-ed in the New York Times January 16th arguing for the trials’ relocation to the 172-acre island, half a mile off the southern tip of Manhattan. She listed the reasons for Governors Island’s suitability: it has no residents, only a handful of workers and, since it can only be accessed by ferry, entry points will be more secure.

When the board’s suggestion was offered, Mayor Michael Bloomberg bluntly declined it, saying, it was “one of the dumber ideas” he has heard. NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly later came to support the mayor, deeming the location impractical since it has no prison and a high school is slated to open there in September.

But  the mayor’s words outraged the Lower Manhattan community. During the meeting’s public session attendees were impassioned. One person demanded an apology from the mayor and another cried out, “How dare you?”

Mayor Bloomberg’s comments also elicited a joint statement from Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who support a substitute location. The elected officials and community board leaders have a meeting with the NYPD on Friday to continue pressing their case.

For the past week Menin has been busy meeting with legal consultants and elected officials. “I’ve reached out to so many individuals and not a single person has said, ‘Let’s have this trial in the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan, let’s spend $200 million on a multi-year trial,” she said.

While the board generally supported shifting the location to a military installation in a non-urban setting, a few people worried the island’s planned development projects would be stalled. Others were concerned about losing access to a nearby summer get-away spot.

Commissioner Kelly heard about the 9/11 trials the day they were announced. The Justice Department did not consult with him on the location’s viability.

“We’re asking them this time to do it right,” said Menin. The Community Board is hoping to offer pragmatic solutions that will be considered. While the decision-making is reserved to federal officials, CB1 is urging for its input to be a factor in the ultimate site selection.

This article was reported and written by Paulina Reso.

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