The City Council Committee on Environmental Protection held an oversight hearing Wednesday on the response to the flooding in South Ozone Park that inundated about 80 homes with sewage in the early hours of Nov. 30.
The hearing, led by Committee Chair Costa Constantinides and Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, offered testimony from victims about the aftereffects of the flooding and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Comissioner Vincent Sapienza, who clarified that the incident was caused by a perfect storm of miscommunication and engineering problems.
Sapienza testified that it took the agency seven hours and a dozen 311 calls to realize that the problem was not localized, but area-wide. Then, once the agency tracked down the sewer that was causing the blockage to the 150th Street Bridge overpass, they could not get to it because in the 1980s, the DEP allowed the state to build a highway over the sewer that blocked access.
Instead of clearing the blockage, the agency had to install a system that would direct water flow around the blocked sewer. Sapienza said that the agency is currently evaluating whether to abandon the sewer entirely in the future.
In the wake of the incident — the city’s largest sewage backup in five years — residents testified about the mounting expenses of reclaiming their homes.
“Many families have missed work and missed school, some are concerned about black mold in their homes, and others don’t know where to start because they don’t have the means to begin repairs,” said Adams.
Though Comptroller Scott Stringer granted an emergency procurement of funds in order to clean affected residents’ basements of sewage and replace damaged boilers, residents said that they have had to file additional claims for other resulting personal expenses.
Leron Harmon testified that his family is still living in a hotel because his house is uninhabitable. Heat vents from his basement carried the smell of sewage through his entire house forcing him to throw out his living room set and two mattresses.
“The smell from the sewage went through every single room,” Harmon said.