Plumbing Work That Triggered East Village Explosion Lacked Proper Permits

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Department of Buildings records indicate that plumbing work being done in the 2nd Avenue building believed to have been the source of yesterday’s East Village explosion did not have the necessary permits,according to the Times.

Authorities believe that the explosion that took down 119-123 Second Avenue yesterday afternoonstemmed from gas work being done at 121 Second Avenue. ConEdison officials told reporters that inspectors had been at the building less than two hours before the explosion and determined that the plumber handling the work had not left enough room for a new meter; they did not let gas flow in through the new pipe.

But ConEd inspectors did not deem it necessary to check the old pipes, and do not know what ultimately led to the explosion; in a statement on their website, they note that they had “no reports of gas odors in the area prior to the fire and explosion,” and that no leaks were found during a survey of the gas mains on the block yesterday.

More chillingly, Department of Buildings records show the building did not have any new plumbing or gas work permits, and it’s unclear who was working on the pipes at the time. “All we know is that there was no approval from D.O.B. to do any plumbing work in that building after November 2014,” said former DOB commissioner Stewart D. O’Brien told the Times.

The only current work permit for the building was issued to general contractor Dilber Kukic, and calls for minor renovation and replacement work, including the “replacement, relocation and installation of plumbing fixtures.” The Times reports that Kukic had a subcontractor working on the building who has not yet been named; DNAinfo reports that Kukic was actually on the scene during the explosion to check out a gas odor and survived.

Kukic, who told reporters he finished the renovation work six months ago and did not do any work in the basement, is being treated at an area hospital. “As soon as we opened the basement door, there was an explosion, a fire,” he told the website. “It was full of smoke. The debris was on top of me.”

Notably, Kukic was arrested as part of a sweeping corruption-related indictment earlier this year that named employees from the Department of Building, Department, Housing Preservation and Development, and property managers. He has been accused of bribing an undercover investigator to dismiss building violations on properties he owns uptown; he has plead not guilty to the charges.


Restaurant Owner Smelled Gas Before Explosion But Called Landlord, Not 911

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Earlier today Mayor de Blasio updated New Yorkers on the aftermath and continuing investigation into themassive East Village explosion that impacted four buildings along Second Avenue near 7th Street on Thursday. “This was, 24 hours ago, a vibrant bustling street,” he said. “And today people are dealing with tragedy.”

“It appears to be a gas explosion, but there’s a lot more we need to learn,” De Blasio noted. He was asked repeatedly how Con Ed’s visit to the site two hours before the explosion was related to the incident: “The reason Con Ed was there had to do with previous work that had been done at the site that they were coming to see,” he said. “It was not related to
anything that had happened that day.”


The Department of Buildings permitted gas and plumbing work in 121 2nd Avenue in 2013. Con Ed workers were there to inspect private piping in the building because the owners wanted to later introduce gas to a new installation in the building. “The problems were not safety problems,” he said. “There was no gas leak detected when the Con Ed workers were there.”

Someone asked if there was a possibility of criminal activity. De Blasio responded that they don’t know yet, but the “NYPD is involved and they will assess what next steps are necessary once we get the full picture.” He noted that there was possibly “an inappropriate accessing of the gas line.”

He said that the owner of Sushi Park was the first person to notice the smell of gas, about 15 minutes before the explosion. The owner called his landlord instead of the authorities, which prompted de Blasio to stress the importance of calling 911 or Con Ed if you smell gas: “He called the landlord. People might think that’s a common sense thing to do. The point we have to get across is there is no substitute for calling 911 or Con Ed. The first call has to go to 911 or Con Ed.”

Altogether, at least 22 people were injured, four of them critically (at least three firefighters were also injured while battling the blaze). There are currently no fatalities reported, but at least two people are confirmed missing, and there may be others as well (he noted that 42 names were called in as possibly missing, but only two had been confirmed to have been in the buildings at the time).

Three buildings were completely demolished and another one suffered tremendous fire damage: “You rarely see a scene of such devastation in a city like this.” Firefighters are still at the scene because the fourth building is smoldering, and is still in danger of flaring up as debris is cleared away. Overall, 84 people have registered for various types of assistance, and 11 nearby buildings have been evacuated.

Both de Blasio and FDNY commissioner Daniel Nigro emphasized that it could take days, possibly up to a week, to clear the debris from the area. Nigro added that debris will be carefully removed and “carefully searched” due to missing persons.

De Blasio praised first responders (he noted that the FDNY arrived within minutes of the explosion) and New Yorkers at the scene: “This is absolutely extraordinary what our first responders did here…This city knows how to handle adversity,” he said. “People band together, people help each other out.”

Both officials specifically praised off-duty firefighter Mike Shepherd who climbed a fire escape to rescue people inside the burning buildings: “[He] answered the call even while off-duty and put his own life in danger,” de Blasio said. “We had individuals who came and pulled a woman to safety. Just bystanders who saw a woman’s life in danger and pulled her away even as the building was collapsing.” Nigro added that Shepherd had already been cited six times for bravery. “Looks like this will be his seventh.”

With Maud Rozee


Plumbing Work at Blast Site Lacked Permits, Records Show

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When the manager of Sushi Park, a restaurant in the East Village that wasdestroyed Thursday in an explosion and fire, alerted the building’s landlord that afternoon to an odor of gas, it was not the first time that people who worked there had been concerned about how gas was flowing into the building.

The restaurant’s owner, Hyeonil Kim, 59, said in an interview on Friday that he had wondered how the apartments upstairs in the five-story building at 121 Second Avenue had been getting hot water and gas for cooking. The only gas line coming into the building had been dedicated to his restaurant, he said.

“I don’t believe that there was no gas at 121 during this winter season,” Mr. Kim said, speaking in Korean. “Somehow they got the gas, but how?”

Mr. Kim said he believed tenants had started moving into the building’s upstairs floors last summer, after the landlord, Maria Hrynenko, completed renovations. He said he suspected they were getting their gas from the neighboring building, 119 Second Avenue, which city records show is also owned by Ms. Hrynenko. She did not return calls for comment on Friday. Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested at a news conference on Friday that city officials had a similar suspicion.

Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the area on Friday. “You rarely see a scene of such devastation in the middle of a city like this,” he said. Though the investigation was in its early stages, he said, officials were looking at an “inappropriately accessed” gas line.CreditNancy Borowick for The New York Times

The mayor said “a variety of sources” had led city officials to believe that the cause of the explosion might be traced back to the inappropriate accessing of a line that fed gas into one of the buildings. “There’s certainly a possibility of impropriety,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The building at 121 Second Avenue had been getting gas for cooking and hot water through a small pipe connected to a large gas main under the street, said Michael Clendenin, a spokesman for Con Edison. The utility had installed a larger connection to that main so that the building could receive enough gas to supply the apartments as well as the restaurant, Mr. Clendenin said.

Two inspectors from Con Edison came to the building Thursday afternoon, about a half-hour before the explosion, to inspect the plumbing work leading to the new connection. They did not detect any sign of a gas leak while they were in the building, said Carlos Torres, Con Edison’s vice president for emergency management. They did, however, find fault with the plumber’s work, determining that sufficient space had not been left for the new meter, Con Edison officials said.

Because of that, Mr. Clendenin said, the inspectors left without unlocking a valve that would have allowed gas to flow through the new pipe. Gas did continue to flow through the older pipe.

In a statement released late Friday, Con Edison said that its records showed that “the work of the building’s plumber failed two inspections, including the inspection our personnel conducted yesterday afternoon.”

It is unclear exactly what happened next in the building’s basement.

It was someone from the sushi restaurant who first detected a possible gas leak, at about 3 p.m., shortly after the Con Edison workers left, city officials said. He called the landlord, Ms. Hrynenko, and she sent her son, Michael, to check for the possible leak, the officials said. Mr. Hrynenko and a general contractor, Dilber Kukic, opened the door to the basement, just as the explosion occurred, they said.

Department of Buildings records show that plumbing work, which can include gas line work, was approved at the site from August through November 2014, said Stewart D. O’Brien, executive director of thePlumbing Foundation City of New York, a trade group.

The plumber on the job certified that the work met code standards in August 2014. City officials said that work was signed off on Sept. 25, 2014, and that any further work would not have been allowed without a new permit, which was not obtained. It is not clear from the records what work was being performed in the building, or whether it was being done by a licensed master plumber.

“All we know is that there was no approval from D.O.B. to do any plumbing work in that building after November 2014,” said Mr. O’Brien, a former Department of Buildings commissioner.

Andrew Trombettas is the licensed master plumber who performed the work on the site last year and whose name appeared on the building permit. Asked on Friday in a telephone interview whether he had been to the site since he completed his work last year, Mr. Trombettas said: “Never.”

“We don’t know who was there yesterday,” said Mr. Trombettas, who refused to answer more questions and could not be reached later. “We don’t know what happened. Whatever is going on, we’re not aware of.”

City building records show that Mr. Kukic, 39, a general contractor at the Bronx firm Neighborhood Construction, had been working on the building.

Mr. Kukic had hired a subcontractor, Robert K. Boyce, chief of detectives for the New York Police Department, said at a news conference on Friday. Police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, offered two different spellings for the subcontractor’s name.

Searches of available public records did not yield plumbers by either of those names, but a close approximation appeared in a 2010 online advertisement, which identified a Jerry Ioannidis, the owner of Beta Plumbing & Heating Corp. in Astoria. And in 2012, records show, a disciplinary action initiated by the Department of Buildings against Mr. Trombettas identified one of his companies as Beta Plumbing & Heating Corp. Mr. Ioannidis is not licensed as a master plumber, a requirement for doing gas line work, according to city records. A telephone message left at his home Friday was not immediately returned.

Chief Boyce characterized Mr. Kukic as “very helpful” so far and said that he was not presently under investigation in connection with the blast.

In February, Mr. Kukic was charged by the Manhattan district attorney’s office with bribing an undercover investigator posing as a housing inspector. The case was part of a broader inquiry by the city Department of Investigation and the rackets bureau of the district attorney’s office. Prosecutors said Mr. Kukic had paid the undercover agent $600 in cash to dismiss violations at two properties he owned on West 173rd Street in Manhattan. He has pleaded not guilty and the case is continuing.

Mr. Kukic could not be reached for comment, but he told the news site what happened when he and Mr. Hrynenko went to the basement to check on the gas odor.

“As soon as we opened the basement door, there was an explosion, a fire,” Mr. Kukic told DNAInfo in a phone interview from NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where he was being treated for burns and smoke inhalation.

No one contacted Con Edison about the smell, according to the utility. Since a gas explosion in East Harlem killed eight people last March, Con Edison and city officials have urged New Yorkers to call 911 immediately if they smell the rotten egg odor that indicates leaking gas. A movement as simple as turning on a light or opening a door, can cause an explosion, according to experts.

Correction: March 28, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of the owner of Sushi Park on later references. He is Hyeonil Kim, not Hyeonil Park.

Green Water Projects Could Save NYC Billions

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New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced last week it spent $3 million to fund local projects that will reduce stormwater runoff. The projects are part of a larger plan that could save taxpayers billions of dollars over the next 15 years, according to a DEP spokesperson.

“It’s the most cost-effective way of cleaning the environment, clearing the rain-water and avoiding sewage overflow,” said Mercedes Padilla, with the Communications & Intergovernmental Affairs department at DEP.

The problem with New York City’s outdated, existing sewage system is that it shares the same pipe space as stormwater drainage. When it rains heavily, the system often overflows, pumping sewage and debris into the rivers.

To address this, the DEP started the Green Infrastructure Plan in 2010. It promotes the natural movement of water by building and maintaining a series of sustainable water systems across the city. These include green roofs, rain gardens, and constructed wetlands.

The DEP plans to spend $1.5 billion on projects like these over the next 15 years. They will reduce stress on New York City’s water pipes and treatment plants, ultimately saving money.

The Green Infrastructure Grant Program offers grants to organizations in areas where excessive stormwater runoff is a problem. The most recent projects include a series of rooftop and ground-level gardens in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn.

One project in particular is the Paradise on Earth Community Garden in the Morrisania and Melrose neighborhoods in the Bronx. Run by the New York Restoration Project, the garden will use the money to modernize existing garden features to filter and reduce stormwater flows. The garden will mostly be used for environmental education, hosting local cultural and artistic events, supporting urban agriculture, and providing a green oasis for the community.

The Green Infrastructure projects aim to replace a previous method of addressing runoff: stormwater detention tanks. Those are giant tanks placed underground to contain the stormwater overflow. The water is then slowly released over time at a more natural pace.

In contrast, said Padilla, a garden or green rooftop not only reduces runoff, but also “helps property values, cleans the air, and beautifies the neighborhoods.”