Gennaro, DEP discuss FM flooding
By Karen Frantz

City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) met with city Department of Environmental Protection officials last Thursday to discuss potential fixes to Fresh Meadows storm sewers in order to alleviate flooding, an issue which has again come to the forefront after a storm crippled the area Aug. 1.

The department’s proposed solution that is most likely to work is to construct a bypass sewer that would divert water away from the Utopia Parkway storm sewer line to a separate line nearby, Gennaro said.

This solution would alleviate the stress placed on the sewer system in heavy downpours and disastrous scenarios such as what happened two weeks ago, when rain overwhelmed the storm sewers and water spilled into the streets, at 164th Street and 71st Avenue and the Long Island Expressway and Grand Central Parkway at Jewel Avenue, might be better avoided.

“We know the scope of the problem,” said Gennaro, chairman of the Council Committee on Environmental Protection. “It’s a hard problem, but now we know what needs to be fixed.”

The meeting was held to discuss the long-awaited results of a flow monitoring study of the Utopia Parkway sewer line. The study was conducted in order to learn how well storm sewers were handling water flow, the results of which are now helping DEP identify construction projects that could help fix problem areas.

The Utopia Parkway storm sewer line has long been identified as problematic, and the area has been prone to flooding for decades.

“We know conceptually what needs to be done, it’s just not an easy thing to do,” Gennaro said.

Gennaro said other fixes, such as making the storm sewer larger, appear unfeasible. The current storm sewer under Utopia Parkway is the largest one that can physically fit under the street, he said.

In addition, physically raising the height of the street to create more room is problematic because it would leave the houses lower relative to the street, Gennaro said.

The next step in the process is assessing how a solution would be best engineered. The DEP would need to design a bypass sewer so that it wouldn’t cause the storm sewer line receiving excess water from Utopia Parkway to overload, Gennaro said.

“By relieving a problem on Utopia Parkway, you don’t want to be creating a problem somewhere else,” he said. “That’s tricky.”

The DEP also needs to determine and secure funding for a project as well as work with the affected communities to ensure they wouldn’t be unduly burdened, Gennaro said.

Community Board 8 member Maria DeInnocentiis urged the DEP to keep the community informed and involved in the steps ahead.

“We need community input,” she said, saying she might bring up the idea of creating a community board task force at the next meeting in September.

She also echoed Gennaro’s caution about a potential sewer bypass, and said the DEP needs to ensure that such a solution would not harm any neighboring areas that would receive excess water from the Utopia Parkway line.

“You don’t want to pit two parts of the same community against each other,” she said.

Gennaro said he is planning on following up with the DEP to make sure its assessment is expedited.

“It’s my preference that whatever needs to be done, we bite the bullet and get on with it so that the people who live on Utopia Parkway and have long been suffering get some long-deserved relief,” he said.

He didn’t know specifically how long an assessment would take, but said that DEP Deputy Commissioner James Roberts indicated the issue was a top priority.

“I take him at his word,” he said.

Phone calls to the DEP were not returned.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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