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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Senator Joseph Addabbo, Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, Councilman Robert Holden, Comptroller Scott Stringer and local resident Nancy Demino look at damage from a sewer project on 74th Street in Middle Village on Sept. 4.

Updated on Sept. 6 at 10:00 a.m.

It was deja vu for a group of local elected officials as they walked along 74th Street in Middle Village on Tuesday, listening to the concerns of local residents about another botched sewer project.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer joined Councilman Robert Holden, Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell on Sept. 4 for his second summer trip to the area in consecutive years, this time to observe the damage left by the Penelope Avenue sewer project that was stalled due to contaminants found in the soil. In August of 2017, Stringer walked through Maspeth to see similar problems that were caused by the Calamus Avenue sewer project.

Stringer also announced his intention to expedite an $8 million change order required to restart the stalled project. According to Holden, the additional money is needed to cover the cost of properly disposing of the contaminated soil, which must be hauled all the way to New Jersey.

“I don’t pretend to be an expert on these matters, but this is a very beautiful neighborhood, but a very unusual street,” Stringer said. “This is not the way streets are configured, and I think we need to get more experts out here so we can prevent more damage from happening, and that’s what I’m going to commit to do with all of you.”

The elected officials spoke to many residents of 74th Street to hear about the struggles they have faced because of the prolonged construction, and lack thereof. The digging and drilling along the street has caused structural damage to many properties, including cracks in stoops, foundations and the sidewalks in front of homes.

One resident, Lina Lotrean, welcomed the officials into her back yard as she pushed her grandson in a stroller. She lifted the wheels of the stroller over two large cracks in the concrete of her patio that formed during the construction, she said.

A large crack in the patio at local resident Lina Lotrean's house (Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS)

A large crack in the patio at local resident Lina Lotrean’s house (Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS)

For others, the severe flooding after any heavy rainstorm that necessitated the work in the first place is still the worst part.

“My daughter, when it heavily rains, she actually locks herself in her closet and cries,” said Nancy Demino, a 74th Street resident for the past 10 years. “So this is getting bad. This is getting vicious, and it’s not fair to the kids that have to grow up in this kind of environment.”

The sewer reconstruction in the area was promised to the residents in 2007 after a severe storm caused major flooding and damage. The $22 million project did not begin until 2014, and it was scheduled to be completed this summer before the contaminated soil was uncovered. According to Holden, a Middle Village native, the neighborhood was developed decades ago atop a landfill, so the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) should have known the soil could be problematic.

“They didn’t even know it, and that’s the problem I have with DDC,” Holden said. “They didn’t know where they were working. All they had to do was ask somebody who has lived here all their lives.”

Barnwell, whose representatives were also involved with the Calamus Avenue visit last summer, said that the continued problems with sewers in the district and the apparent neglect from city agencies is unacceptable.

“The damage we saw today is hurtful for the neighborhood, but this is nowhere near what we have seen in the past on videos and pictures,” Barnwell said. “There’s no oversight on all of these projects, and it’s getting out of hand.”

Stringer, Holden and Barnwell walk along 74th Street as residents point out the damage caused by construction and flooding (Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS)

Stringer (center), Holden (right) and Barnwell (back, right) walk along 74th Street as residents point out the damage caused by construction and flooding (Photo: Ryan Kelley/QNS)

While Addabbo thanked Stringer for making the trip out to the neighborhood again, he reiterated that the project must be completed as soon as possible so that his constituents no longer have to live in fear.

“Now that it’s here, now that it’s started, we’ve got to keep it moving forward,” Addabbo said. “We cannot live in fear of every heavy rainfall … when you come upon an unforeseen situation like this soil, we have to have the mechanisms available to move on, and to move quickly, and we’re not seeing it here.”

Holden added that he was told the project could be back underway by Thanksgiving, but he wants it to begin even sooner, and the timeline for completion after it resumes is unclear. According to a spokesperson for the DDC, the Calamus Avenue project was completed in May.

The spokesperson added that once Stringer approves the $8 million change order, the DDC will “immediately direct the contractor to re-start work.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that the Calamus Avenue project did not have a clear timeline for completion. We apologize for any confusion. 

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