Hundreds attended a town hall meeting at PS 223 in Jamaica Sunday to address the Nov. 30 raw sewage spill in South Ozone Park, which damaged nearly 300 homes after a massive blockage occurred in a sewer main near JFK Airport.
State Senator James Sanders Jr. was joined by several other elected officials from southeast Queens and all relevant city agencies were on hand to answer many questions from the homeowners whose primary concern was the cost of the cleanup and repairs to their homes, whether the cleanup crews dispatched by the city were qualified and any health repercussions stemming from being near the sewage,
“This is a terrible and unfortunate incident to have happened, especially around the holidays,” Sanders said. “My office will be working with the city and the appropriate agencies to help affected homeowners recover and resume their busy lives.”
Many homeowners have flood insurance which does not cover disasters like sewage spills. All affected residents are able to file a claim with the NYC Office of the Comptroller within 90 days of their loss, however, the Comptroller’s Office will not begin to process claims until the Department of Environmental Protection determines the exact cause of the blockage, Sanders explained.
The exact cause of the blockage is still unknown and the investigation is expected to take a few more days, according to DEP Commissioner Vincent Zapienza. The sewage main is located 40 feet below ground, is hard to reach and excavate.
The city installed a pump around system that can carry the sewage away from the area bypassing the clogged main and the Department of Health told residents that the water in their homes is safe to drink because it is transported through different pipes. The DOH also said they tested the air quality in the affected homes and nothing abnormal was detected.
Deanne Criswell, Commissioner of the NYC Emergency Management Department said all of the cleaning crews dispatched to homes by the city are qualified to perform the sewage removal services and that their work is evaluated by a city inspector once it is completed to ensure it meets the highest standards and is conducted to the satisfaction of the homeowner.
“My quality of life has not improved much since the flood occurred,” homeowner Bina Balgobin said Tuesday. “The contractors are still working away in the basement and you still smell the stench. They say they expect it will take a couple of more weeks. At this moment you still can’t get out of the house because all of our belongings are out there, but I can’t leave anyway because the contractors are always here.”
Balgobin did attend the Sanders town hall and found the information “somewhat helpful.” Sanders advised all of the city agencies that they need to be more proactive regarding the maintenance and cleaning of pipes and other infrastructure and to improve response times when unforeseen incidents do occur. Many residents complained about what they considered a poor performance by 311.
The city continues to operate an emergency center at the Courtyard Marriott at 145-11 North Conduit Ave. in Jamaica to provide residents with resources. Sanders has a limited supply of cleaning kits for pick up at his district office for those who need proper gear.
He also has Comptroller claim forms. Contact Lisa George for more information at 718-523-3069.