Bklyn20’s Account of Today’s Manhole Explosion

We thought that Bklyn20’s comment about today’s explosion and the possible cause deserved its own post so that more folks would see it.  Here it is:

I live on Willow Place not far from the explosion site — we were allowed back into our building app 5:15/5:30 pm. Two teams — fire dept and gas co? — came into our place to check for gas/carbon monoxide. However, a neighbor further south on Willow Place had not yet been let in — there were still “dangerous readings” of some sort in his house. Some Joralemon St residents were held back as well.

I think the explosions actually started a little before 1:00 pm — I can tell from the call log on my cell phone. The first explosion was deafeningly loud. I had also noticed , about 10:00 am this morning, that workmen were ripping up the street at the house being renovated on Willow Place-right next to the MTA substation/power station. I debated coming over to them to complain — my understanding was that it was National Grid putting in a gas line for the long-abandoned house, and it’s illiegal to do non-emergency work on a holiday or weekend. (You need special permits.) Since the jackhammering started c. 9/10 am, rather than the usual 7 am, and since it stopped pretty quickly, I didn’t complain. Why alienate a new neighbor?

After the first explosion on Joralemon near Willow Place, I walked over to the National Grid contractors and nagged them a bit about working on a holiday. What do you know, the second explosion came right where I’d been standing, and copious amont of nasty smoke was billowing out of the rectangular cut in the street. That was when I felt sure we’d be evacuated.

Explosion #3 was another manhole cover lift-off on Joralemon, very close to Willow Place. (I didn’t see it, but certainly heard it.) Then we were told to get out. We are back in now, but lots of work is still going on out there. especially on Joralemon St. It looks like several building there are still empty.

Three lessons:
1. National Grid et al must stop using upstate contractors on Brooklyn Hts jobs, unless they brief them first about the morass of water/electric/gas lines right under the pavement. A few years ago half of Willow Place lost electricity becasue an NYC utilitys subcontracto (who drove down from from Spring Valley!) was trying to break asphalt with a backhoe rather than a jackhammer. The sound of the backhoe’s claw hitting pavement shook our windows. Today’s National Grid work may have been what caused all this.

2. Everyone, know where your important papers, prescriptions and absolute necessities are — or have a “Go Bag” at the ready. I was lucky I had 3 or 4 minutes to get what I needed in case a sleepover with the Red Cross at St Charles Borromeo was in my future.

3. Will this incident finally prove to the ESDC/BBPDC/DOT — to whomever is necessary — that Joralemon Street CANNOT be a vehicular entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park? We need retractable bollards at the end of Joralemon, at Furman Street. Pedestrians can then use it as an alternative to Atlantc Avenue, but not the hundreds of cars that could come on the weekends. Joralemon is a fragile cobblestoned street over a major subway line (4/5), layered with a spiderweb of utility pipes and wires for the NY subway system. Doesn’t this near-disaster prove my point.

Comment from bklyn20
Time: January 18, 2010, 7:38 pm

I just spoke with new Councilman Steve Levin — he is already informed on this, and will start working on it first thing tomorrow. He also has hired long-time Brownstone Brooklyn Maveness Marian Wood, who knows her way around the brooklyn utitlity companies, among other things.

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  • http://ecgroom.tumblr.com EC Groom

    FYI – my brief update: “Nope, we don’t know when we’ll be out of here”… http://bit.ly/6y0dYN

  • ABC

    The Times article today confirms this account.

    Very lucky nobody was hurt.

    I think the previous headline “botched home renovation likely to blame…” sort of blamed the homeowners and their team, but this appears to be National Grid’s screw up.

  • Reggie

    “Will this incident finally prove to the ESDC/BBPDC/DOT — to whomever is necessary — that Joralemon Street CANNOT be a vehicular entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park?”

    No. Lack of care by a contractor is not a persuasive argument for closing the street to through-traffic.

  • PS 8 parent

    Great breaking news coverage–thanks!

  • jora-lemon

    “Will this incident finally prove to the ESDC/BBPDC/DOT — to whomever is necessary — that Joralemon Street CANNOT be a vehicular entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park?”

    Oh please. A manhole explosion could happen on any street at any time. There’s no reason to believe that it’s more likely to happen on Joralemon than on Atlantic or Old Fulton St – should we not allow vehicular access to the park from those streets too. And while we’re at it this whole argument about closing Joralemon because “hundreds of cars” will clog this tiny street is idiotic. Anyone coming to the park from north of the brooklyn bridge will come via old fulton. ANyone coming from the south will come via atlantic. The only people who are likely to use Joralemon are the people who live between old fulton and atlantic, and they all live close enough to walk. I will bet bklyn20 a million dollars that joralemon does not see even a minor uptick in traffic due to the park.

  • AEB
  • bklyn20

    I absolutley DO NOT fault the new homeowners for the whole shebang (actually the appropriate word — or maybe hebang!) Although the work shouldn’t have been done on a holiday, it’s not the new owner’s fault that National Grid doesn’t know what they’re doing and may be hiring subcontractors from out of town who aren’t up to speed on NYC utilities.

    Also, I have heard this morning that while Con Ed and National Grid are indeed (Mr Junkersfeld!) marking up the sidewalks and streets to show the location of their lines and wires, the MTA does NOT do this. Maybe if the MTA marked their power lines by the MTA substation, the N.Grid guys would have been more careful — then again maybe they don’t know what NYC marks mean…

    As far as closing lower Joralemon to car traffic (except for emergency vehicles), this is not just my idea! I’ve only lived in this part of the Heights for about a decade. The idea of closing lower Joralemon was promised to the community in the 1980s, when the original park plan took shape. The Brooklyn Heights Association supports the closing. I don’t agree with the BHA on several major aspects of the parks’ plan, but we do agree on this! Please read the folowing from the BHA’s comments on the EIS/General Project Plan, cut and pasted directly from their website:

    We applaud the park plan’s statement that Joralemon Street should be closed to
    through traffic at its intersection with Furman Street to minimize park-bound traffic
    through the neighborhood. We urge the BBPDC to work with the NYCDOT to secure
    the DOT’s consent to the Street’s closing. This fragile, historic, cobblestone street must
    be protected from excessive vehicular traffic, both during the park’s construction, as well
    as once the park is open.
    Given New Yorkers’ propensity to drive relentlessly in search of free parking and
    the fact that most parking for the park will not be free, we anticipate that Brooklyn
    Heights could be inundated with frustrated motorists searching for the elusive, free
    parking spot. Creative steps such as a resident permit parking program, signage and a
    trolley or shuttle from local subway stations should also be implemented.

    Back to my comments…I wish I had a million dollars to bet on this! MY opinion , and the BHA’s, is not the inspired by “one contractor’s mistake;” there is MTA adn utility work done on this block on a near-weekly basis. I would not bet on whether it will actually happen, but on whether it NEEDS to happen.

    While the thought of millions of cars clogging the tiny street is a concern, my comment was also about general public safety and the need to keep the 4/5 line, the busiest subway route in NYC, running under Joralemon Street. The 4/5 in Brooklyn was shut down for several hours yesterday, and the 2/3 for a shorter period of time.

    Yes, I would very much like to prevent Joralemon from turning into NYC’s Quaintest Super Highway. I also do have some regard for letting New Yorkers, including me, get to work on time.

  • Reggie

    “The idea of closing lower Joralemon was promised to the community in the 1980s, when the original park plan took shape.” There is no way for me to verify this. However, closing the street isn’t in the park project plan and I am quite sure it won’t happen. I too wish I had a million dollars, so I could take that bet and then have two!

  • bklyn20

    Reggie, I can most certainly verify this as I am in regular contact with the people who crated the original plark plan in the 1980s. The people come to all the public park meetings and make their opinions known there.

    Still and all, the fact that the closure is not in the project plan doesn’t make it right! The project plan still includes 1000+ units of housing and I don’t think that’s right either, though you are free to disagree.

    I am happy to debate the park plan in a few days, but right now would like to catch up on my sleep and figure out where I will take my humans and canines in case this volatile neighborhood problem isn’t resolved. Will we be kept out of our houses overnight, or god forbid, or could our houses blow up?

    Where can we bring our pets if we’re evacuated overnight? Right about now a pup tent (pun not totally intended) on Squibb Hill looks good to me.

  • jora-lemon

    I don’t care who’s idea it is and who else might agree with it, it’s still silly. Joralemon is one way headed towards the park. When people look for free parking, they go to their destination first and then start circling. Because joralemon is one way, people would have to drive to the park and then circle back all the way to Hicks to get access to joralemon. It simply won’t happen. People who think that joralemon will be come a super highway are the same folks who thought that the red hook ikea would back up traffic all the way up to cobble hill. There are people out there who claim that any change to the city’s fabric will create traffic mayhem. They are wrong about 99% of the time, but that never stops them from making the same old tired claims again and again without ever digesting any new knowledge. The fact is that there is no reason to be on joralemon if you’re going to the park. Noone with half a brain drives around brooklyn heights expecting to find free parking in one of the most parking constrained neighborhoods in the city. There’s a huge garage in One Brooklyn Bridge Park that people will park in.

    And your comment about being concerned for public safety is also bogus. There are tons of streets in this city built on top of important subway lines and other infrastructure – does that mean we shouldn’t allow car traffic on any of them?

    Putting up bollards at the end of Joralemon is stupid an awaste of money. A residential parking permit program would accomplish the same thing and should be undertaken regardless of the park.

  • AEB

    “Bollards”? Oh, I see:


    (And thanks, Steve, AKA Mr. Bollards-and-Sleeves.)

  • AEB

    PS, y’all MUST check out the animation, further down on the site page….

  • bklyn20

    The Red Hook Ikea has a big-a$# ugly yellow shuttle bus that makes trips around the local subway stations and that is also, by the way, is a valuable service to Red Hook resident who may or may not be going to Ikea. No such jitney etc service is planned for BBP that I know of.

    I think resident permit parking would probably be a good idea, but might not be the answer to all our prayers, either.

    The park itself, I and many other people believe, is chock-as-block of money-wasters. Spiral pools? An unproven berm that may actually bounce sound back into our neighborhood,? Wave attenuators that the local kayak organizations consider useless? Why not holler up those trees instead? If you wait a few weeks, it might be a good test of the berm’s acoustics.

    Regarding my fear if the new, I do not think that anything new will ruin the neighborhood. Beyond that:

    1. Lower Joralemon sits on sand, and fill, because the water’s edge used to be much further up the hill.
    2…we have a subway fanhouse to help people escape fires in the tunnel under the river and avoid fatal smoke inhalation.
    3…an MTA electrical facility that powers a significant stretch of very busy subway lines
    4…old belgian blocks/cobble stones /whatever you want to
    call them
    5…surrounding 100+ year old homes with 100+ year old basements and foundations — made of dirt and stone. Not exactly bedrock!
    6…vibrations from the BQE
    7…a massive, historic model tenement built atop the former water’s edge that is seriously neglected by its slumlord owner
    8… need I go on? This should be a discussion of our neighborhood’s safety. Let’s have the park discussion another day.

    Given some more time, I can probably think of more issues, but am now going to try and get a life.

  • nabeguy

    bklyn20, you’ve not only got a life, you’ve got a point. Many good ones, in fact, so stick to them as you stick it to them. As a resident of Middagh Street, which is the proposed portal to the northern entrance to BPP through Squibb Park, I share many of your concerns.

  • john

    Correct, the MTA does not participate in NYC One Call (Local Law 753) which allows it’s utilities to be marked when called for a mark out before work can commence. Had this been the case this would not have happened
    One would think that since the work was being performed next door to the substation, one of the MTA people would say something? It looks like the MTA will pay for cost of repair, not the nat grid or the sub. since they refuse to participate in One Call. Also NYC water and sewer lines are not part of One Call either.

  • nabeguy

    john, you seem pretty well informed. Shouldn’t participation be mandatory? Given all the security layers that have been imposed since 9/11, wouldn’t a centralized data base make sense? Did the city not learning anything from the Grand Central explosion?