Bloomberg: Ground zero construction means Sept. 11 ceremony must be held off site

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

NEW YORK -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that the Sept. 11, 2001, anniversary ceremony will not be held in its original ground zero location, despite threats by family members to boycott and hold their own shadow remembrance.

Construction, including work on the memorial to the victims, has made the site unsafe for a large public gathering like the one that has taken place there each year, he said.

Bloomberg said that the decision to move the sixth anniversary commemoration to a plaza off the southeast corner of the site was final, and that "it would be a big shame" if anyone skipped the remembrance events out of anger.

"They can't take place in the old location -- we just couldn't make it safe," Bloomberg said.

For five years, mourners have participated in the same ritual at the site: As the names of the nearly 3,000 victims were read aloud, echoing across what was once the World Trade Center basement, family members could also descend a long ramp into the seven-story pit. There, they laid flowers on the dusty bedrock.

Some angry family members have written letters to Bloomberg and Gov. Eliot Spitzer, warning that they will hold their own gathering if the ceremony is not moved back to its original place.

The families said Monday that they will now apply for a permit to do so, but it is unclear whether that would be successful. The city controls permits for the swath of land where previous remembrances were held, and a separate agency is in charge of the seven-story pit.

That agency, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Monday it was working to find a way to let families visit the site on the anniversary. Spokesman Steve Sigmund said that would not include permission to hold a separate ceremony, nor would it include access to the pit.

The family groups that are protesting say the new location has none of the significance that ground zero holds.

"This is not the site -- it's across the street," said Anthony Gardner, whose brother was killed in the attack. "You have a better view of a Burger King than the actual trade center site."

Bloomberg said the plaza has its own historic significance from the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. People died in that area, and shortly after the attack, temporary morgues were set up there along the street. The plaza also is close to the Engine 10, Ladder 10 firehouse that lost six of its firefighters and was nearly destroyed in the attacks.

It is likely that this fight will not end this year. With the World Trade Center memorial and various buildings now going up, the area will be under construction for years, and it is possible that the anniversary ceremony won't return until the rebuilding is complete.

The emotional attachment to the site is particularly strong among relatives of the 1,100-some victims for whom no remains have been identified. Many feel as though ground zero is a grave site.

The city is now re-excavating areas around ground zero to look for more body parts after a cache of human bones was found in an abandoned manhole last year. More digging turned up other subterranean pockets of remains that were missed during the initial cleanup.

Some families believe the city has not kept them fully informed about the new round of excavations, which is expected to last many more months.

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