Investigations

Investigation: Potentially dangerous lights

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It's the park of choice in one of New York's hottest neighborhoods, but fortunately, no one was nearby the night Sandy's strong winds toppled a 100 foot high stadium light in Williamsburg's McCarren Park.

The problem: even in high winds, steel poles should not fall down. That this one did raises questions about the condition of the remaining seven towering park lights.

"If there's a real danger of them falling down, they should either repair them or have them replaced," Christopher Vargas said.

To assess the danger, we convinced a prominent structural engineer to come to the park to examine the polls. He did not want us to identify him since his firm does work for the city.

"You can see signs of corrosion around the base," the engineer said.

As an expert in investigating structural failure, the engineer quickly identified the problem:

"The weld didn't fail. It's the metal around the weld that ripped off. The thickness of the metal," he said.

The metal thickness at the pole's base had corroded to less than a tenth of an inch:

Hoffer: "Near the break it's paper thin."
Engineer: "Yes, It's razor sharp."

The engineer's concern is with the remaining field lights, especially with the heavy-use of the park by families living nearby.

"This is showing signs of corrosion around the base," the engineer said.

He determined that four of the 7 remaining poles have 'significant corrosion'' at crucial welds near the base. On the worst one, the engineer used an ultrasonic tool to measure the thickness to see if the metal was corroding like the pole that fell.

"There is significant corrosion," he said.

The measurement shows the metal at the pole's base is NOT much thicker than the one that fell.

Engineer: "The wall thickness is roughly half what it was originally."
Hoffer: Should that worry those in charge here?
Engineer: It's definitely something needs evaluated and possibly repaired to prevent a similar type accident."

The Parks Department says expert engineers assessed all the lights and they "agreed corrosion needs to be addressed, but it is not an emergency."

People we spoke to who use the park everyday feel if corrosion toppled one pole, it could another.

"If the winds are equal to what they were when this one fell, I don't think I'd be playing Frisbee in the park," one young woman said.

"That's very nerve-wracking especially we're in this park every day," Vanessa Castillo of Williamsburg, Brooklyn said.

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Tags:
superstorm sandy, brooklyn, williamsburg, investigations, jim hoffer
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