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Fresh Meadows wants fix for 179th Street cave-in

By Kelsey Durham

Fresh Meadows residents joined their elected officials Monday to call on the city to repair a sinking street that has caused homeowners to file dozens of complaints for more than a year as the thoroughfare continues to deteriorate.

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) and state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) hosted a news conference at the site of the cave-in, on 179th Street between 75th Avenue and Union Turnpike, to address what Lancman said has been a “persistent problem” for residents along the street since complaints started coming into Community Board 8 in May 2013.

“This is long past where the city should have taken care of it,” he said. “Cave-in, sinkhole, we’re not sure what to call it, but for people on the block it’s been an inconvenience and a nuisance and it’s potentially dangerous.”

Residents say the roadway began sinking about two years ago, but the city has not yet been able to determine the cause of the problem. For the last year, homeowners along the street have been going back and forth with the city Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection, as both agencies say the other is responsible for the repairs.

In the time since the problem started, the affected portion of the street has formed into a crater in the center of the paved roadway that is larger in area than the cars that drive by, and some residents say it is up to 6 inches deep.

“Every time I come down the street I worry it’s going to swallow us,” resident Gail Labelle said of the sinkhole.

In addition to homeowners saying the sinking street is hazardous and is lowering their property values, residents and elected officials also worry that the cave-in will cause harm to someone driving down the street or to children who are outside playing.

“The concern is that when people who aren’t familiar with it drive down here and see this strange, bizarre indent in the road, their first reaction is to swerve,” Lancman said. “They could crash into a car or even a kid.”

Lancman said the DEP and DOT have been pointing fingers at each other about who should have to make the repairs, and he said no one will know for sure whose responsibility it is until the cause can be determined.

He said any damage to the surface of the roadway falls under the DOT’s territory, while anything underneath the surface is the job of the DEP to take care of, but the councilman said repaving the street without knowing the condition of the workings underneath would simply be a Band-aid that would not solve the problem in the long run.

There is also concern among homeowners who live along the street that if the problem continues to go unattended, the plumbing and sewer systems that lie underneath the road and run in and out of their houses will burst.

“This could cause serious damage to the water mains,” resident John Callari said. “Is the city going to pay for repairs if any of these homes are damaged because of this?”

Martha Taylor, second vice chairwoman of CB 8, said the community board has written to the city about the issue and is hoping that with increased awareness will come a solution to the yearlong problem that has brought several complaints into CB 8’s office.

She said the board, like the residents, is anxious to fix the issue and is awaiting word from the DEP and DOT on if and when that will happen.

“You’ve heard the saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” she said. “Well, in this case, it’s broken, and it needs to be fixed ASAP.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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