Categorized | Washington Heights

Castle Village residents’ 5-year reconstruction ordeal finally ends


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The northbound ramp on Riverside Drive is back in business. Photo by Brett Teal

The last rebuilders left the Castle Village area in Washington Heights this month, five years after a massive retaining wall collapsed onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, destroying cars, disrupting traffic, and setting off a multimillion-dollar battle over insurance to cover the wide-ranging repairs.

The final step in restoring the heavily damaged area was the reopening of an on-ramp, which takes cars from Riverside Drive by Castle Village coop onto the Henry Hudson.

“It was a headache” said Carlos Pellecier, a local doorman at 1380 Riverside Drive, who drives to work from the Bronx and found his commuting time often tripled because of the blocked on-ramp. “Sometimes it would take me an hour to get home,” he said.

In 2005, the Castle Village wall collapsed, spilling onto the Henry Hudson.  Nobody was killed or injured, but the accident did cause millions of dollars in damages and months of traffic disruptions.

The Castle Village co-op was responsible for paying around $27 million for repairs to Kiewit Construction Company, a firm hired by the coop.  But the building’s insurance only covered about $10.5 million of that cost.

The rest was paid by individuals and families living in the community’s 585 apartments.  Costs varied depending on how many co-op shares an owner held, and in some cases, a family’s personal insurance policy covered the costs.

“A lot didn’t have to reach in their pockets at all,” said Gerald L. Fingerhut, the coop’s president.

But those without protection had to pay Castle Village up to $80,000, according to Fingerhut.

The scene at the Henry Hudson Parkway immediately after the Castle Village wall collapse in 2005. Photo courtesy of Joe Olivencia

“Some people felt the pain more than others,” he said. “People refinanced their mortgages and took out equity,” but none were thrown into bankruptcy by the financial burden.

Fingerhut, said Castle Village received the insurance money only a few months ago, after a lengthy battle with the insurance companies.

Now that the coop wall is reconstructed and other damage repaired, Fingerhut said Castle Village’s homeowners are taking extra precautions.

The coop’s insurance policies have been “dramatically increased” to protect residents, according to Fingerhut.  The plan now includes $200 million of liability insurance and has up to $20 million worth of protection for any future wall damage.

Fingerhut said he is unable to comment on the previous insurance plan for legal reasons.

Since the wall crumbled, Castle Village residents have been forced to live through five years of constant reconstruction and legal battles.  One battle involved the Castle Village owners’ insistence that the city restore a second retaining wall, just below the coop’s wall and running alongside the Henry Hudson Highway. Without restoration work, the coop owners argued, the lower wall might collapse, bringing down the Castle Village wall a second time.

The city eventually agreed to pay $14 million to restore the lower wall.

That project started in April, closing the on-ramp yet again, as was done frequently over the past five years.

Carlos Pellecier, the doorman on Riverside Drive, said drivers would often head to the ramp without realizing it was blocked off.

“They would be pissed and would curse,” Pellecier said.  “Just to get through is a pain in the butt.”

Drivers were then forced to U-turn and head back down Riverside. The next on-ramp was a mile away, via a detour on busy Cabrini Boulevard.

Local residents say that in addition to the driving inconvenience they suffered through years of thunderous construction noise.

“I’d wake up in the morning and you hear a lot of construction,” said Joe Olivencia, who lives just below the retaining wall.  “It’s irritating.”

But the job is over now, and Olivencia, who is retired and spends much of the day at home, can finally start to relax.

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