By Madina Toure

The city Department of Environmental Protection is considering raising manhole covers and installing bioswales to address flooding problems in Utopia Parkway.

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) met with the DEP last week to discuss solutions for the decades-long flooding issue in Utopia Parkway. The area had floods in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Lancman said raising manhole covers would require cooperation from the city Department of Transportation.

The city would have to seek resident input for the installation of bioswales, trenches that take in rainwater runoff and contain vegetation that helps slow down water penetration and get rid of pollutants, he said.

“They have to take a look at the neighborhood and see how many they can install and see if it’s something that the residents would support,” he said.

The DEP could not be reached for comment after repeated attempts.

The agency conducted a flow monitoring study in 2010 in which it found that the largest storm during the monitoring period, which occurred on Oct. 1, 2010, produced 3.12 inches of water. Though it was not flashy, it exceeded the sewers’ capacity. The DEP also found that the sewers on Utopia Parkway were functioning as designed.

The DEP also conducted 11 pre-storm inspections and cleanings on Utopia Parkway in 2012 and six times in 2013, while a total of 962 work orders had been completed in Community Board 8 since the last public meeting in October 2012. The DEP also retrofitted 14 catch basins with open curb inlets to enable collection of more stormwater.

In August 2012, then City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) met with DEP officials to discuss solutions to Fresh Meadows storm sewers to alleviate flooding. The DEP wanted to construct a bypass sewer that would divert water away from the Utopia Parkway storm sewer line to a separate line nearby.

In November, then City Council Speaker Christine Quinn introduced a proposal to speed up city projects against flooding, including upgrading pumping stations and green streets that take in water runoff.

Quinn devoted funds to a DEP study that would come up with possible projects that could alleviate flooding in Utopia Parkway. At the time, Gennaro called for a solution tailored to the Utopia flooding issue and said that the DEP would have a number of city project proposals ready by January 2013.

Yolanda Delacruz, a board member of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, who previously served as the 25th District leader in Queens, said one resident told her he was sleeping in the basement and woke up to find himself underwater while another said she had to change her washing machine twice and take her car out of submerging water twice.

“The impact of the water is strong,” Delacruz said. “They (floods) are strong. But it pushes up the manhole. You can see it’s being pushed up by the water.”

Annette Shapiro, 50, who lives on 65-26 Utopia Parkway, said the flooding has been going on for about 18 years and remembers experiencing it when her parents were still living in the house.

After a car accident made it difficult for her to walk, she says she worries that the next time there is a flood, she will not be safe. She said the city should put catch basins and sewers on 65th and 67th avenues as well as Utopia Parkway.

“There aren’t enough, but we’re told we have to clean it (basin),” Shapiro said. “They have to clean it. Nobody does a bloody thing to help anyone, but they want money. That’s what they want. It’s money.”

Kew Gardens Hills resident Mike Sidel, 71, who used to live in Fresh Meadows, became friends with Shapiro after the 2007 flood and helped her out.

He recalled walking down 74th Avenue in 2007 and noticing that there were no catch basins to catch the water. He said agencies are unwilling to cooperate.

“We have a lot of overlapping agencies and the difficulty is most agencies when suggested by the community board members activists or public officials, they turn their back and they take the attitude of, ‘You can’t tell me how to do my job,’” Sidel said. “There’s too much red tape.”

Lancman stressed that the DEP is seeking solutions that would not lead to more issues.

“They don’t want to solve this problem by creating problems elsewhere,” he said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour‌e@cng‌local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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