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Bayside mulls over flooding solutions

City Councilman Tony Avella (c.) joins residents to call on the city DEP to improve the sewer system in northern Queens. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Stephen Stirling

On Murray Street in Whitestone Tuesday morning, flooding solutions were traded like baseball cards.

For some, installing a new valve on their sump pump had provided some success.

Another man said cutting a groove in the sidewalk at the top of his driveway and installing a wooden plank had kept most of the water out during a recent storm.

Yet another said a $1,600 metal flood gate he installed at the beginning of the summer has worked wonders so far.

Residents in Whitestone, College Point, Bayside and Little Neck said handling flooding brought on by powerful thunderstorms has become a part of life for them in recent years, causing thousands of dollars in damage and a constant stress on their lives.

“When it rains at night, I don't sleep anymore, I just watch the water come down,” said Mary Kierenia, a Whitestone resident whose husband died last August after suffering a heart attack while trying to fix their sump pump. “I don't know what to do. I don't have a man in my life to help me anymore.”

Margaret Puccio, who lives on 23rd Avenue in Whitestone, said her basement and garage have flooded several times this summer and each summer for the last several years.

“It's terrible living like this, the stress that it's causing us. When it rains, you don't want to go away,” Puccio said. “My husband, he had a doctor's appointment today and told me to stay home because they're predicting rain.”

City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said flooding stories are a dime a dozen in his district.

On Tuesday, he called a news conference to demand that city Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Emily Lloyd take steps to improve northern Queens sewers, which he said have been hit hard by flooding rains during the last several years.

“It's getting to a point where it can't go on anymore,” Avella said. “If Commissioner Lloyd can't solve the problem, maybe we should have a new commissioner. What is it going to take for the mayor to realize there is a problem with these city agencies?”

DEP spokesman Michael Saucier rejected the notion that the agency has been unresponsive to the residents' concerns.

“DEP has done a significant amount of work in the Whitestone area since last year's storms including, for example: walk-through inspections of large sewers and television camera inspections of small ones; sewer cleaning and catch basin inspections based on feedback from the local communities and observed flooding issues,” he said. “It is a challenging area to install sewers because of its unique topography, but we are continuing the process.”

More than a dozen residents who attended the event said they had incurred more than $20,000 in flood damages during the last three years.

The DEP has come under fire during the last year as heavy rains have continuously overloaded sewer systems around Queens, causing millions of dollars in flood damages and briefly causing the county to be labeled a federal disaster area.

Last week during a town hall meeting in Fresh Meadows to address a similar issue along Utopia Parkway, Lloyd said the DEP had received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to study why storms seem to be growing more severe in recent years, but added there will likely be no quick fix to the problem.

“We have to try to determine what kind of storms we'll be having in 25 years — we don't want to build the system too big and run up your water bill,” she said.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by E-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, ext. 138.

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