Image: Ground Zero
Stan Honda  /  AFP-Getty Images
Workers prepare the World Trade Center site Monday in New York. A memorial is to be built 70 feet below ground level.
updated 3/14/2006 4:05:02 PM ET 2006-03-14T21:05:02

Construction workers began clearing gravel and debris from the site of the World Trade Center towers Monday, the first step in building a permanent memorial to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Some family members of those killed rallied at the site, protesting that the project would destroy a piece of history and dishonor their loved ones.

Without the fanfare that usual accompanies groundbreakings, trucks carrying lumber and other equipment rolled down a ramp to the site, and workers started shoveling earth off the north tower footprint.

Stefan Pryor, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency in charge of rebuilding ground zero, said construction was finally under way “after a monumental public planning process.”

But at street level, 100 family members, including a group that has sued to stop construction, said the memorial would destroy the trade center’s historic foundation and fail to honor their loved ones.

Coalition of 9/11 Families sues
“There is hope that we will be able to stop the LMDC from trampling the footprints,” said Anthony Gardner of the Coalition of 9/11 Families, which sued on Friday to stop construction.

Gardner’s attorney, Alan Fuchsberg, said a state judge set a Wednesday hearing in the case. A leading national preservation group recently echoed the group’s concerns in a letter to rebuilding officials.

The memorial, titled “Reflecting Absence” by architect Michael Arad, was chosen two years ago from more than 5,200 proposals. It marks the fallen towers near their footprints with two stone reflecting pools at street level, surrounded by trees. The pools will go 70 feet below ground, where visitors can find the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks and the 1993 trade center bombing.

The construction that began Monday will take about six weeks, followed by the creation of more than 100 concrete footings to support the memorial. It is scheduled to be complete in 2009.

Thomas Bilotti, a construction worker who lost friends at the trade center, said he was both “sad and proud” to be part of the effort.

“It’s about time that somebody’s working here,” Bilotti said. “It’s been long enough.”

‘Just get it right’
But William Doyle, whose son was killed at the trade center, said: “I don’t care if the memorial is built in 2011. Just get it right.”

Dozens of family members held up pictures of their loved ones and chanted “no underground memorial.” They said they did not want to descend below street level to remember those killed.

“This is not going to be a water park down here,” said Rosaleen Tallon, the sister of a firefighter killed in the 2001 attacks. “It’s just creepy.” She has been sleeping outside her brother’s firehouse for five days to protest the plans.

Other family members said they approved of the plan. “I cannot imagine a process that could be more complete, more democratic,” said Tom Johnson, a foundation board member whose son was killed on Sept. 11.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the design would never satisfy everyone, but that it was time to build.

“My sympathies are with those who aren’t happy with the design, but I think it is, of the designs submitted, a good one,” Bloomberg said. “You could keep asking for designs for the next 20, 30 years and get different ones.”

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