Families Call WTC Site 'Sacred Ground'

ByRichard Esposito

N E W  Y O R K, July 15, 2003 -- To some, it seems at times to be nothing more than the site of a massive redevelopment project and any memorial to victims of the attacks will be sized to fit the space that remains after office towers, parking garages and shopping malls are sited.

To some, the World Trade Center site seems to be nothing more than a massive redevelopment project. But to the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the footprints of the twin towers are "sacred ground," and they intend to fight to keep them that way.

Victims' families have enlisted a powerful ally, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in their effort to keep that ground free — six stories down to bedrock — of a planned bus terminal and shopping mall.

A professional videotape called America's Memorial, prepared by the Coalition of 9/11 Families and featuring Giuliani, is being readied for mailing this week to all senators and congressmen as well as to officials in firefighters' unions across the nation. In all, 1,000 copies of the tape were being unpacked Monday in the coalition's lower Manhattan offices.

"The reason why many of the designs so far fail is that they have the concepts in reverse order," Giuliani says on the tape, which runs 10 ½ minutes. "The major design concept is replacing office space … and the memorial is an afterthought."

Current plans call for the last 30 feet down to bedrock to be the location of a parking garage that will help accommodate tour buses for the estimated 5 million to 10 million visitors a memorial will attract each year.

But family members of victims point out that the vast majority of the 19,938 pieces of human remains recovered from the attack were found in this area. Out of respect for the 2,800 people who died at the site, family advocates argue the ground down to bedrock ought to be free of any infrastructure uses.

From Bedrock Up

With the second anniversary of the attack less than two months away, ABCNEWS has talked to surviving family members and their allies and learned how they intend to alter the development process before it is too late.

"The whole process is askew. They should have started from bedrock and built America's Memorial from bedrock up," said retired firefighter Lee Ielpi.

From Sept. 11 through May of 2002, Ielpi, who lost his son Jonathan in the attack, devoted himself to the recovery effort, combing the rubble each day for the remains of someone's loved one. Today he puts that same energy into his efforts at the coalition.

Ielpi said the coalition was not concerned with how the memorial looks. But he said coalition members would like to see some cultural elements, possibly a library, a facility for children, a repository for the victims' remains and "an inspiring memorial that will tell for all time the horror of terrorism."

‘Flawed’ Process

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which oversees the World Trade Center redevelopment process as well as the memorial design competition, is aware of the family coalition's desires.

Development sources said the LMDC would like to accommodate the families, and they also acknowledge that New York Gov. George Pataki has agreed with the families that the planned location of the bus terminal is a bad idea.

Still, LMDC officials said they have to take into account the other powerful stakeholders in the process, including those public officials who are calling for the terminal. Those officials said that in the end, the families may very well have their wishes observed.

Sources say the LMDC has been ordered by the governor to look for alternatives that would accommodate the families, but no viable alternative has yet been identified.

The families would have liked their wishes taken into account from the start.

"The process is flawed, that is what Giuliani says very clearly on the tape," said Jennifer Adams, managing director of the Coalition of 9/11 Families. She and Ielpi said that all memorial plans must stop at 30 feet below grade to be considered eligible.

They said that the videotape and the lobbying efforts are the best weapons they have to alter this restriction before the planned end of the memorial design selection process on Oct. 31.

"This is a place we want preserved in the right way," Giuliani says on the video. "This should really be regarded as sacred ground. … I think it is very, very important that we make this decision correctly because if we don't, we're going to do a disservice to American history."

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