Work quietly resumed yesterday on portions of the $245 million hotel tower and expansion at the Tropicana Casino Resort, nearly five weeks after four workers were killed in the collapse of a parking garage under construction there.
The garage remained off limits, its cracked concrete layers and hanging rebar suspended in a giant cascade of debris. Demolition is expected to begin in four to six weeks, said Tom Foley, Atlantic City’s emergency management chief.
But on Iowa Avenue, a single cement mixer turned, the truck parked where the bodies of the four men had been carried out by their colleagues Oct. 30.
About a dozen workers were nearby, preparing the hotel tower for resumption of work. The tower is adjacent to the new garage but about a block from the end that collapsed.
Most of the 300 tradespeople employed on the project were still waiting for the call back to work.
Thirty workers were called in yesterday, said Jason Rocker, a spokesman for the Keating Building Corp., the site’s developer. He said the resumption had been authorized by Atlantic City’s construction official and officials with the state’s Department of Community Affairs.
“We’ve taken every precaution to allow these workers to go back to work in the safest environment possible,” Keating said in a statement. “We continue to work with experts on site to determine what caused this incident. We will keep working until we have the answers.”
The work will be limited to the new tower and portions of the dining, entertainment and retail complex, according to a release from Aztar, parent company of Tropicana.
“The resumption of construction is wonderful news for everyone,” Tropicana spokeswoman Maureen Siman said. “It’s a real morale booster. It’s a very big step in our efforts to move forward.”
E.J. Miranda, spokesman for the Department of Community Affairs, said that the state had lifted its stop-work order, but that safety was the purview of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA spokeswoman Kate Dugan said the agency was working with the builder and was “satisfied that they’re proceeding in a safe manner. They’re not just doing stuff. They’re running stuff by us.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of labor groups that advocates for safety said it would form a task force today to call on OSHA to pursue criminal charges in its investigation of the collapse.
“OSHA can criminally prosecute, but they rarely do,” said Jim Moran, director of PhilaPOSH. “Even where deaths are involved, there’s a maximum six-months penalty. We think that’s rather cheap for killing workers.”
The OSHA investigation, which could take up to six months, is focusing on whether contractors Keating and Fabi Construction allowed enough time for the concrete to dry while constructing the 10-story garage.
Private investigators have suggested that last-minute design changes may have resulted in an inadequate connection between the garage’s floors and outer wall, said Robert Mongeluzzi, a lawyer for two of the families of the men killed.
Investigators are also looking into whether the upper decks were sufficiently supported while the concrete on them dried.
Workers have contended that they told supervisors that poles in place during the days before the collapse had been bowing under the pressure of drying concrete. Mongeluzzi also contends that Keating was sharing poles with a construction site at the Resorts Casino Hotel.
Tropicana officials would not say how business has been affected by the collapse, which still has Pacific Avenue shut down and buses operating out of a tent on a vacant lot at Morris Avenue.
They have tried to keep things as normal as possible, opening the new Crystal Room for high-rolling slot players last weekend and touting the 94 new slot machines, each with a television screen attached.
One gambler at the Tropicana said yesterday that she would be wary of the new buildings. But two free nights and a third for $50 were enough to keep her returning to the casino.
“I’d rather stay in the older towers,” said Kathy Gillen, 57, of Westchester, N.Y., as she played the I Dream of Jeannie slots during a typically slow Tuesday morning. “I figured maybe the materials were inferior in the newer one.”