Hangar 17

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Hangar 17 at New York’s Kennedy Airport is large enough to accommodate several jumbo jets, but it is not used to house aircraft.

Strewn across the hangar’s concrete floor are nearly 2,000 pieces of steel. Some are easily recognizable as I-beams used in the construction of a large building. Others have been twisted into contorted shapes impossible to reproduce by man or machine. Most are huge, weighing tons, but a few are slivers and sheets the size of a road sign.

Here lies the remains of the World Trade Center, destroyed in the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001.

Hangar 17 has been a busy place. According to a recent report in the New York Times, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey—which owned the Twin Towers—has been fielding a steady stream of requests for pieces of WTC steel. These requests have come from all over the world:

A 15-year-old Boy Scout in Windermere, FL, earned his Eagle rank by arranging for the town to receive the steel for the centerpiece of a 9/11 memorial.

A fire department in Saint-Etienne, France, asked for the steel to memorialize the 2,752 victims, including 343 firefighters, who died at the World Trade Center.

The Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas asked for a 79-inch piece to fit into a custom case.

All who have asked for pieces of what used to be the tallest skyscrapers in New York City have treated these artifacts with respect and sensitivity, evidenced by the driver of a flatbed truck from York, PA, who placed a large American flag on the bed of his truck and then gently loaded a steel beam onto the flag before hauling it to York’s memorial.

Unfortunately for all of us, this respect has been missing at the place where it is needed the most — at Ground Zero.

In the eight years that have now elapsed since the 9/11 attacks, three New York governors, one New York City mayor, the Port Authority, and one very stubborn real estate developer have been mud-wrestling in public over the 16-acre World Trade Center site. We won’t recount in detail the internecine maneuverings of this group, which has been entrusted with rebuilding the WTC site, including a memorial to the victims of 9/11. Suffice it to say that the developer, who acquired the World Trade Center lease a few months before the attack, is collecting millions of dollars in penalties while he argues with state and city officials over who will finance some mediocre buildings that he is no longer in a hurry to build due to the collapse of the real estate market.

The stalling tactics have included at least a half-dozen alterations to the design of a train station and underground shopping mall also planned for the site. While this tawdry spectacle has unfolded, Ground Zero has remained a gaping, open wound in the national psyche. The victims’ memorial remains unfinished.

This is a national disgrace.

Imagine, for a moment, if 10 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor the denizens of Honolulu were still arguing over whether to build a seafood restaurant and a surfboard shop over the wreck of the U.S.S. Arizona.

It is time to end this travesty. It is time to take Ground Zero away from the political hacks and their commercial allies who have been toying with it.

Congress should act immediately to designate the World Trade Center site a national landmark, and to enforce by eminent domain the claiming of all 16 acres in the name of the American people. Congress also should fund the victims’ memorial and a National Firefighters Museum, to be completed on the site in time for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2011.

Nothing else should be built there, so the place where the Twin Towers once stood can forever remain what it became on September 11, 2001:

Hallowed ground.

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