Through the combined efforts of New Paltz resident Butch Dener, Fire Chief Kevin Maguire and Police Chief Joseph Snyder, the New Paltz community will soon have a 9/11 memorial made with actual artifacts from the World Trade Center towers. It will be located on the grounds outside Fire Station Two on North Putt Corners Road in New Paltz, where there is currently a “Tree of Remembrance” planted to honor 9/11 victims.
That tree was planted by Dener and his late friend, Carmine Liberta, in 2002. At the time, Dener raised funds to place a commemorative plaque into the ground by the tree, and over the years, he says, the tree has grown and become a place where people spend time and leave flowers and mementos, especially around Sept. 11.
“But I always wanted to make a real memorial,” he says. So when Dener heard that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had a program in place in which first responders could request World Trade Center artifacts for use in a memorial, he met with Chief Maguire.
“Let’s work together,” Dener told the chief, and Maguire agreed to back the project. The New Paltz Fire Department made the request to the Port Authority through the proper channels, and four months later, says Dener, they heard back that they were being considered.
The Port Authority has been in charge of determining what to do with all of the artifacts of devastation that were brought to the 80,000-square-foot Hangar 17 at JFK airport in Queens following the destruction of the towers. By September 2011, 80 percent of the contents of the hangar had been given away; first to survivors, families of the victims and first responders on the scene, and then to fire and police departments all over the country for use in memorials. Many artifacts were set aside for the memorial at the site in New York City, and others were symbolically transformed: seven-and-a-half tons of steel from the towers was melted and used in 2003 to cast the bow of the USS New York, a Navy amphibious transport ship. All told, it’s estimated that more than 13,000 linear feet of steel in fragments and pieces is now enshrined in 9/11 memorials in all 50 states and seven other countries, including a military base in Afghanistan.
Now the Port Authority has set up a program to divest itself of the remaining 20 percent of the terrible yet precious wreckage. Formal requests filed by police and fire departments, city and town municipalities and “appropriate” nonprofit organizations that have a suitably respectful plan for the remains are carefully considered and those approved receive artifacts for use in a memorial site. The Port Authority requires a detailed description submitted with each request on the organization’s official letterhead explaining how the artifact will be utilized along with any other pertinent information. Individuals are not eligible to apply.
While the New Paltz Fire Department awaited approval of their request for an artifact, says Dener, they heard from New Paltz Police Chief Snyder and Detective Bob Lucchesi that a police department in Rockland County had given the New Paltz Police Department a scarred and burned stanchion that had been out in front of the north tower plaza.
With the support of both the police and fire departments, Dener is spearheading a fundraising drive to build a 9/11 memorial that will include both that stanchion and a piece of twisted metal from the towers, now in the hands of the New Paltz Fire Department.
A small committee comprised of Dener, New Paltz resident Rich Steffens and representatives of the fire and police department has been formed to work on the project. Dener says they have no idea yet what it will cost or when it’ll be put in place, although they’d like to see it completed by summer. “We can get it done quickly if we get the right crew,” he says, adding that he’s hoping a local contractor will reach out and volunteer to build the memorial as a community service for New Paltz. “Because we’re doing this for the community; it’s not about politics, politicians or elected officials.”
Plans for the memorial include a seating area, perhaps a bench on which to sit and contemplate.
“It’s going to be a very moving memorial when we’re through,” Dener says. “The piece of steel is from one of the beams in the towers. It’s not a giant piece, but when you see it, you feel the presence. It’s very telling.”