By Patrick Donachie
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection will be required to consistently update communities in southeast Queens on the progress of improvements to reduce the frequent flooding in the area, according to legislation sponsored by Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Arverne) and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last Tuesday.
The call for transparency and accountability comes after de Blasio allocated approximately $1.5 billion in 2015 for a 10-year plan to help build out adequate sewer infrastructure in the area, a problem that community members and elected officials said had persisted unabated for decades despite pleas for assistance.
“For decades residents of southeast Queens have lived with the fact that a slight rain could end in their home being flooded,” Richards said. “This bill will ensure that the plan is implemented in a timely fashion and the community can be updated on the progress on a regular basis.”
At a meeting of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection Jan. 23, DEP Deputy Commissioner Eric Landau described how residential development throughout southeastern Queens had come to outpace the sewer storm system, including catch basins and storm sewers, which has led to chronic instances of roadway flooding and ponding during storms.
Landau said more than $900 million of the funding would go towards constructing “sewer spines” along 150th Street, as well as Guy Brewer, Farmers and Springfield boulevards. The work will take place in 18 separate projects, installing more than 16 miles of storm sewers, five lines of combined sewers, seven miles of sanitary sewers and 21 miles of water mains.
Southeastern Queens resident Rhonda Lee testified during the committee hearing that her home was flooded six times with sewer water in the period between 2001 and August 2008 alone. The issues affect more than 400,000 city residents, according to the city’s OneNYC plan released in 2015, and the area has more 311 flooding and confirmed sewer backup complaints than any other spot in the city.
The mayor included the $1.5 billion investment as a part of his 2015 executive budget. Elected officials, including Committee Chairman Costa Constantindes (D-Astoria) asked Landau to ensure that this funding allocation would not be diminished, saying constituents had waited many years with little relief.
William Scarsborough, a representative for the Addison Park Civic Association and a former state assemblyman representing much of southeastern Queens, said the allocation was the largest funding the city had ever committed to flood mitigation in the area that he could recall, but he attributed the flooding to two factors.
“One is the street flooding that is being addressed by this new infrastructure and the second is the high water table that exists underground,” he said during the hearing. “This simply means that the standing water level is so close to the surface that water is constantly seeping into basements and lower level offices through floors and walls whether it is raining or not.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona