Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Picture Tells Some of the Story

Two weeks before the collapse of the Hoagie City wall onto the Salvation Army Thrift Store, L&I visited the construction site on Market St. This is what they saw.

The Picture Tells Some of the Story

Photo snapped by OSHA inspector of the Market St. site before the collapse.
Photo snapped by OSHA inspector of the Market St. site before the collapse.


On Saturday, Mayor Nutter called to discuss my column about how to make it easier for everyday citizens to report unsafe-looking work-site conditions to Licenses and Inspections. He said he was intrigued by New York's construction-site signage program, which I'd referred to in my column, and wanted to learn more about it. So I shared some links with him.

Nutter also wanted to talk about the lone day  - May 14th - that an L&I inspector visited the Market St. construction site in response to a citizen complaint about unsafe-looking condition. Much has been written about the fact that L&I issued no violations after that visit. But on that day, demolition had not even begun on the four-story Hoagie City property (whose wall collapsed three weeks later onto the roof of the Salvation Army Thrift Store next door, killing six people). As proof, Nutter had L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy email me a photo that was taken the day after the L&I inspection, when OSHA inspectors visited the site. The photo, which is time-stamped, shows Hoagie City to be clearly intact - so much so, you can even see, in the photo, that the fourth-floor lights are on.

"OSHA inspectors visited the demolitions at 2132, 2134, 2136-38 Market St on May 15th. (We inspected May 14th)," wrote Kennedy. "As you can see no work [had] started on 2136 Market. Heavy machinery is on site but is only being used to clear rubble after the hand demo, which is appropriate.  OSHA did not observe any violations either."

UPDATE # 1: 3:00pm

I am awaiting response from both the mayor and L&I about the photo, above, which I was told shows electric light on the fourth floor. Readers have said that this is sunlight, not electric light, because the roof is missing. At this point, I'm trying to find out a) if the roof is, indeed, missing in this photo; b) if it's missing, is it because demo started on the Hoagie City building or because the roof fell in?; and c) if the roof is missing, why I was told the photo indicates electric light and not daylight? I'll clarify as soon as I get the answer(s). Thanks for your patience.

UPDATE #2: 3:45pm

Just spoke with OSHA spokeswoman Leni Fortson, who wants to clarify Maura Kennedy's statement that "OSHA did not observe any violations either." Fortson says that statement is not accurate. She says OSHA visited the Market St. property because OSHA (which focuses on workplace safety not building construction or demo violations) had received an anonymous complaint that workerson site were in danger of falling from significant heights. Forston says the inspector found that the workers were in no imminent dnmager. But that doesn't mean the inspectors did or did not see violations, since OSHA's investigation happened just three weeks prior to the collapse and was still considered to be an "open investigation." She didn't say what next steps, if any, OSHA had planned to take related to the worksite. 

Fortson also said she would try to find out what, precisely, the photo above depicts: an open roof or indoor lighting on the fourth floor? Hopefully the inspector who took the photo will have an answer soon. All I can do is report what those in charge have been telling me. If they've gotten it wrong, I'm eager to clarify it here. Stay tuned.

UPDATE #3: Tuesday, 12:25pm

Thank you, reader Howard B. Haas, Esq, for confirming that the "light" seen on the fourth floor of the Hoagie City building  - in the photo snapped on May 15, 2013 (above) - is indeed daylight and not electric light. Haas shared with me his own photo - time-stamped April 14th - that clearly shows that the Hoagie City roof is missing (having a tough time posting Haas' photo here, so you'll have to trust me on this). So it looks as if Mayor Nutter - who told me that the Hoagie City building was enough intact on May 15th that its fourth-floor lights were on - was misinfiormed by staff, who (he said) told him the photo depicted electric lights.

And that concludes all updates of this blog post, which I hereby re-christen "PhotoGate."

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When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.

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