Project suspended pending safety review

July 25, 2008 3:41:14 AM PDT
Crane construction has been suspended on a high-profile downtown Raleigh project while a safety review is completed. The project in question is known simply as Site One, located on a plot of land bordered by Wilmington, Fayetteville and Cabarrus Streets in the heart of downtown. Plans eventually call for two towers to be built there, but, for the moment, there is a minor delay on the project.

It all started with a concerned citizen named Eric Goforth. He works in a building with a view of Site One. From his window he saw a tower crane being used for the project. To Goforth, it didn't seem to be standing up straight.

"It looks to me like it's leaning several feet at the top," Goforth says. "It looks like it could conceivably reach the building where I work."

Goforth snapped several photos of the crane with his Blackberry and sent them to the City of Raleigh's Inspections Department, which forwarded them onto the North Carolina Department of Labor. That department handles crane safety concerns.

In the past week, inspectors from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or OSHA, have visited the site three times, the most recent of which came Thursday morning.

"The word I'm getting is that the crane is safe, and there's nothing to be alarmed about," says OSHA Director Allen McNeely. "It looks like we're in good shape."

McNeely says the contractor who is working on Site One, Clancy and Theys Construction Company, has been very open to the inspections. Clancy and Theys says it believes the crane is safe, but to be "absolutely positive", the contractor suspended its operation shortly before noon Thursday while it brings in an additional engineer to re-verify everything is working as it should.

"When a crane doesn't have a load on it, it is supposed to lean to some extent," says Scott Cutler, Vice President of Clancy and Theys. "The crane is within appropriate tolerance."

Cutler adds that in addition to both his engineers and the crane owner's engineers, an independent third-party engineer has also approved of the crane and its position in downtown Raleigh. He says the concern may be a case in which non-expert eyes are seeing a problem that doesn't exist. "There are a lot of eyes in the community on it, and they don't know what they're looking for," Cutler says, adding that the decision to temporarily suspend operations was out of extreme precaution.

OSHA hasn't asked Clancy and Theys to stop using the crane.

The concerns come amidst a flurry of crane tragedies nationwide. On Thursday, a mobile crane collapsed in Oklahoma, killing an 80-year-old onlooker. Last week, a crane at a refinery toppled, and several people died. There have been two deadly crane collapses in New York City since March.

McNeely, the OSHA director, says the NC Department of Labor is currently working on adopting stronger crane safety standards statewide.

"We've taken all these things have happened in the United States very seriously," McNeely says. "That's one of the areas we know we need to be very vigilant on."

By current standards, when developers and builders erect cranes, no oversight from the state is required. McNeely hopes that will change as new standards are written.

As for Eric Goforth, he says he's happy to see his complaints are being looked into by the state and the contractor.

"Maybe it's a non-issue, but I'd just sleep better knowing someone's come out and looked at it," he said.


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