By Mark Hallum
City and state officials were shocked at the level of damage to homes that had ensued from stalled storm sewer upgrades in Middle Village as they toured 74th Street south of Pleasantview Street Tuesday.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer viewed damage to stoops, yards, sidewalks and curbs from soil erosion that occurred as a result of the $22 million sewer project that was scheduled for completion in June, but stopped due to the discovery of lead under the streets of the residential neighborhood.
“If you notice, the people who have been victimized by bureaucracy are actually very calm, well-meaning. They’ve given a lot of time for the contractor and the city to work this out. They’re not asking for anything special, they just want their block to be whole,” Stringer said.
Nancy DeMino said flooding in the area has poured into the basement of her home on the block, which is taking an emotional toll on her teenage daughter, who grows increasingly distressed when water starts to form in the cellar.
“It’s also affecting our children. My daughter is 14 and we moved here 10 years ago,” DeMino said. “It’s been 10 years on and off with these floods. What is happening every time there’s a heavy rain, the cable goes out, sometimes the electric goes out… My daughter when it rains, she actually locks herself in her closet and cries.”
According to City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Middle Village), the land the homes along 74th Street were built on is landfill as this section of the city was formerly swampland. The suspended construction project was carried out by contractors for the city Dept. of Design and Construction without this knowledge, he said.
“It was supposed to be finished this year. We have always known that sewer projects can run into problems, [the contractors] should have anticipated a little bit of that with working in a landfill. They didn’t even know it and that’s the problem I have with DDC, that they didn’t even know where they were working and all they had to do was ask somebody [in the neighborhood],” Holden said. “This is what we’re up against: there’s still lead in the soil, that’s why more money had to be put in the contract–$8 million additional–but it shouldn’t take a year for this project to get $8 million because in the middle are the good tax-paying people of this block and the surrounding areas.”
Holden said the DDC had set a revised completion date for around Thanksgiving, but his office would push for an expedited timeline.
“We will complete this job as quickly as possible. The comptroller has received the request for an additional $8 million to properly manage soil contamination,” DDC spokesman Ian Michaels said. “Once the request is approved, we will immediately direct the contractor to restart work.”
The city agency had promised the community better storm water management after a severe storm in 2007.
“Holes were dug up, left open for months and then backfilled,” said Anthony Torres, who showed off the cracks forming where his stoop was splitting off from the rest of his house. “They work, and they go away, but we live here and it’s not right. We want our street back, we want the flooding to stop and we are counting on our elected representatives to help achieve that.”
Also present at the news conference were state Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Woodside) and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall