Judge Rejects Lawsuit to Move Sept. 11 Debris to Would-Be Cemetery

A judge on Monday rejected a lawsuit brought by several families of Sept. 11 terrorism victims that sought to move World Trade Center debris, which may contain human remains, from a landfill to a plot of land that could be made into a cemetery.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein expressed sympathy for the 17 families that brought the suit against the city, but said the court wasn't the proper forum for the issue to be resolved.

"The grave harm suffered by the plaintiffs in this case is undeniable. But the jurisdiction of a court is limited," Hellerstein said.

He said he would continue to make himself available to the families and the city if they want to settle the issue in a way that might bring relief to the families.

The lawsuit asked that the debris be moved from the now-closed Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island to land across the street that could be made into a cemetery.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Norman Siegel, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the ruling. He said another 1,000 people had signed a petition supporting the lawsuit.

"The 9/11 families sought to rectify an egregious wrong that occurred regarding the disposition of human remains," he said. "We are not prepared to leave hundreds of human remains of 9/11 victims on top of a garbage dump as their final resting place."

The judge said roughly 1,100 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks "perished without leaving a trace, utterly consumed into incorporeality by the intense, raging fires or pulverized into dust by the massive tons of collapsing concrete and steel."

He noted in his decision that the city plans to create a nature preserve and memorial at the Fresh Kills site.

"What better reverence could there be than a memorial that both recalls those who died, even without leaving a trace, and points to the tenacity and beauty of life that must go on?" he wrote.

City attorney Michael A. Cardozo said the city carried out an extensive search after the attack with "dignity, care and respect," finding thousands of pieces of human remains and victims' personal effects.

"It is our hope that the park planned for Fresh Kills, where millions of tons of ground zero materials were carefully sifted and examined, will help us remember those who we lost and forever serve as a tribute to freedom and liberty," he said.