One year after explosion, bills aim to prevent similar tragedies

Local elected officials including Council Member Rosie Mendez, Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and State Senator Brad Hoylman stand at the explosion site on Saturday with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Local elected officials including Council Member Rosie Mendez, Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and State Senator Brad Hoylman stand at the explosion site on Saturday with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Local politicians, East Village residents and former tenants of the collapsed buildings commemorated the first anniversary of the gas explosion on Second Avenue killed two people this past Saturday. The building collapse of 119, 121 and 123 Second Avenue and Seventh Street also resulted in the loss of 30 apartments, many of them rent-regulated.

In an effort to prevent similar disasters in the future, the City Council introduced legislation on February 24 through nine different bills. Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who was at Saturday’s event at the explosion site, is the lead sponsor of a bill that requires gas providers to notify the Department of Buildings within 24 hours of a gas shut off. This is in order to create transparency and hold city agencies accountable.

“A year after the East Village explosion, all that remains is three empty lots as a constant reminder of an avoidable tragic event that took the lives of two young men, rendered dozens of residents homeless, temporarily displaced hundreds of others from their homes and interrupted the livelihood of small business owners for weeks and in some cases months,” Mendez said. “We can never forget the tragedies that were avoidable and we vow to work to ensure that no one else has to suffer and endure what the families and our communities have.”

The Department of Buildings did not return a request for comment on what kind of notification measures, if any, are currently in place.

Local politicians at the event also emphasized that building owner Maria Hrynenko and her partners should be held accountable for the alleged gas tampering that caused the explosion. State Senator Brad Hoylman noted that the now-vacant parcels are on the market for $10 million and he said that legislation is being introduced that would prevent the owners, if they are found guilty, from reaping the benefits of the sale.

“We have to be vigilant that the perpetrators of this foreseeable crime don’t extract any profit from the sale of these properties,” he said.

The building owners have been charged with manslaughter in connection with the explosion and they have an appearance in court this Thursday.

The anniversary of the explosion overlaps with the ongoing closure of another area restaurant because of a gas-related issue. Gramercy neighborhood favorite Mariella Pizza has been closed since January, with a message on the voicemail noting that the business is making repairs to the gas. Con Edison confirmed that the super at 180 Third Avenue shut the gas in the building off on January 24 because of an odor, but the utility was able to turn the gas back on by February 22.

“The building owner has to have repairs done and go through certifications to get it turned back on,” Con Edison spokesperson Allan Drury said. “He must have gone through that process because the gas has been turned back on.” Drury said that even though gas service has returned to the address, the restaurant is still not open, and Town & Village could not reach the owner for an explanation about the continued closure.

The DOB, when called, also did not comment on the current issue at Mariella, although the agency’s online system notes that there is a partial stop work order on the property due to renovations reportedly being done without a permit in the residential part of the building.

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