An outdated sewer system is leaving large swathes of Queens vulnerable to serious flooding, according to a pair of elected officials.
“Year after year, Queens residents have been fighting the trauma and financial burden of flood damage to their homes and lives,” said Assemblymember Nily Rozic. “We cannot continue to let our working families weather the storm alone.”
For decades, poor infrastructure in Fresh Meadows has caused basements and garages to flood with sewage during heavy rainstorms, local leaders said.
“If we have a torrential downpour, all the water gets backed up,” said Jim Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association.
He added that sewer pipes in the neighborhood can only handle about an inch and a half of water per hour. Any more rainfall causes water to pour into homes.
The problem also extends to Glendale, where rainy weather shut down the flood-prone Cooper Avenue underpass last weekend.
The closure between 74th Street and 69th Road was due to “construction and the anticipation of flooding,” according to city alerts. It lasted from Friday afternoon to Saturday night.
Last August, three residents were caught in a deluge there. Cars were submerged under several feet of water and emergency responders had to rescue the trio.
A spokesperson for Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley said the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to add new catch basins to the underpass, but the department has not committed to major infrastructure improvements.
Thousands in southeast Queens say they have also been suffering from mold spores and flooding since the city took over the water supply in 1996.
According to DEP spokesperson Christopher Gilbride, the city has “invested hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading the sewer system in Queens” over the last decade and will continue to make improvements.
But Rozic and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio last week said they wanted the department to speed up the sewers upgrades and reexamine reimbursement policies for homeowners until then.
“Put simply, severe weather is the new normal,” they wrote in a joint letter to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland.
The pair urged the department to make flood-prone neighborhoods a priority in capital plans and expedite short-term flood mitigation measures like street landscaping to reduce storm runoff.
“After the wake-up call Sandy delivered, there’s just no excuse for inaction,” de Blasio said. “We can’t keep leaving families high and dry.”
Yolanda Gallagher of Fresh Meadows shows how high flood levels reached in Utopia Parkway homes after a storm last August.