Mayor to 9/11 families about museum delays: Blame the Port Authority

Sept. 11 Museum and Memorial, still not open. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Following a furious letter from Sept. 11 families about delays in construction at the Ground Zero museum, Michael Bloomberg said this morning, "It's really the Port Authority that has got to get going here."

Since last year, there's been essentially no construction at the September 11 museum, thanks to a funding dispute between the museum's foundation, which is chaired by the mayor, and the Port Authority, the bi-state agency overseen by Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo that is building the museum.

Estimates of the amount of money in dispute have varied between about $150 million and $300 million.

Meanwhile, Port Authority executive director Pat Foye, a Cuomo appointee, has disputed the notion that work ever stopped at the museum.

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On Wednesday, more than 200 relatives of September 11 victims signed a furious letter to Christie and Cuomo calling the Port Authority's actions "despicable," "a betrayal of those who died on 9/11" and "a betrayal of the growing number of children for whom '9/11' is not a first-hand memory."

Here's one particularly angry excerpt of the letter (available in full here):

We believe that the Port Authority is now engaged in a dishonest and dishonorable effort to exploit the Foundation’s successful and disciplined efforts in order to offset its own reckless and irresponsible fiscal mismanagement. In short, the PA is seeking to use the public’s heart-felt support of the 9/11 memorial and museum as an easy source of revenue to help pay for its own oversized, under-budgeted, poorly-managed capital projects (see the $3.5 billion PATH station lobby, serving a mere 50,000 commuters, originally estimated to cost $1.8 billion; see also, the PA’s $25 billion capital plans — scaled back from $33 billion after public outrage.) That is despicable.

The Memorial Foundation has repeatedly refuted the Port Authority’s bald assertion that it is owed $157 million (the PA has inexplicably doubled the amount to $300 million in some press reports). Equally troubling are unsupported reports that the cost of the Memorial and Museum has soared to $1.4 billion. According to the foundation, none of this is true. It maintains that the Memorial and Museum costs owed to Port Authority were capped at $530 million in a properly executed 2006 contract. In that agreement, the Port Authority promised to deliver both the memorial and museum in 2009. It is the Port Authority which has delayed, dissembled and now disrupted this vitally important historic project.

This morning, at a press conference celebrating the re-opening of McCarren Pool in Greenpoint, Bloomberg pinned the blame for the ongoing delays squarely on the Port Authority.

"I read in the paper the Port Authority said construction continues," said the mayor. "That really isn't true. Construction on the museum [has] basically been stopped for close to a year now, because the Port Authority has to release some funds."

"I had a conversation with Governor Cuomo last week, who said to me he's really focusing on it and he understands the need to get the memorial museum done. The museum and the memorial are on budget, they were on time until it started. We've raised $450 million privately to pay for it, which is a lot more than the Port Authority had asked us to raise."

"But it's really the Port Authority that has got to get going here," the mayor continued. "And we have been talking to them for a year. Bob Steel has done everything he possibly can, to satisfy, explain, and hopefully this gets done. I'm always optimistic."

The mayor then urged the two governors "to get together and say to the Port Authority, 'Come on, let's get serious.' This project is not over budget. And it has to get done for the region and for America."