Tuesday, August 14, 2012

PA Cracks Down on Drinking by WTC Construction Crews

Miller time may be over for good. Faced with a series of construction accidents at Ground Zero and a problem with daytime drinking by construction workers, the Port Authority is going on a public-safety bender, trying to tear World Trade Center construction workers away from the bar.

The agency is upping the budget for its inspector general and adding investigators to the unit as part of a sweeping crackdown on workday drinking among WTC hard hats, according to Port Authority chief Pat Foye.

The Inspector General has been quietly deploying undercover agents to the bars around the World Trade Center and is planning to keep up the pressure. Already, more than 20 construction workers have permanently lost their WTC credentials, and more can be expected to do so, Foye said.

“Look, vodka and steel beams and a construction site don’t mix,” Foye said. “We are not going to tolerate it. This has been a longtime problem in the construction industry. But this is the most complicated construction project anywhere.”

Foye declined to say how much the Port Authority is spending on the crackdown or how many investigators are being added.

Plans for the crackdown began taking shape a year ago, after whistle blowers exposed the WTC crews’ drinking problem when area workers observed the steady stream of construction workers who thought “lunch hour” meant “happy hour.”

But officials put the effort into high gear after a series of recent construction accidents at the site of the 9/11 terror attacks. While it wasn’t clear whether the incidents were directly related to boozing, the Port Authority isn’t taking chances.

In February, 40 tons of steel crashed 40 stories to the ground. Then, in late June, a worker was impaled on a length of steel after falling five feet, and a day later, glass rained down on the street after a beam crashed into windows 46 stories up.

The accidents all occurred at 4 WTC, one of the towers being built alongside 1 WTC, nicknamed “The Freedom Tower.” “There is no place at the World Trade Center for risky or irresponsible behavior of any kind,” said Bud Perrone, a spokesman for the developer, Silverstein Properties.

But the PA has its job cut out for it, according to one hard hat who already lost his clearance to do construction at the WTC.

“I hate to tell you, but those bars are all packed,” said 48-year-old Michael Galvani of Wantagh, LI, who was caught drinking beers with his burger on July 18.