The flooding that devastated hundreds of homes in Lindenwood at the end of April, leaving many families to face tens of thousands of dollars in damages, was caused by a malfunctioning sewer facility, the city Department of Environmental Protection said.
In a statement released late Friday, the DEP said it “determined that its Spring Creek Combined Sewer Overflow Retention Facility on Flatlands Avenue did not function as intended” during the April 30 storm that dumped more than five inches of rain on much of South Queens. Lindenwood was hit particularly hard, with many residents saying the damage sustained at the end of April was far worse than what they head to deal with during Sandy. Many residents lost almost everything – if not everything – in their basements and garages.
The Spring Creek sewer facility, which went into service in the mid-1970s, contains large tanks that can store up to 20 million gallons of rainfall and wastewater. The facility is only used when rainfall rates are so great that the capacity of the two nearby treatment plants is exceeded. Excess wastewater is then diverted into the Spring Creek retention facility, to be temporarily stored until the storm ends.
However, the April 30 storm dumped so much rain on the area that the Spring Creek facility reached its limit late that evening and, instead of the extra water and sewage being released into Jamaica Bay, it surged into houses in Lindenwood and Brooklyn’s New Lots neighborhood.
“The Spring Creek facility was recently modernized, and a series of electronic level sensors and transmitters are now used to determine when excess [water and sewage] needs to be released, based upon a number of criteria including the tidal elevations,” the DEP said in its prepared statement Friday. “DEP found that the new electronic system malfunctioned, and releases into the bay did not promptly occur.”
City officials stressed that residents must file water damage claims, which allow individuals to seek financial reimbursement for damages, with the city Comptroller’s office within 90 days of the storm. The form to submit a claim may be found here: http://comptroller.nyc.gov/forms-n-rfps/filing-claims/.
“While once again it took a major storm to demonstrate the need for stronger sewer infrastructure, I applaud DEP for stepping up to the plate and admitting their mistakes,” Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) said. “Our Howard Beach and Lindenwood families will be reimbursed, and I will work to ensure that we never have to suffer through another painful recovery.”
Howard Beach Lindenwood Civic Association President Joann Ariola too stressed that she was pleased to see the city admitting the cause of the flooding, saying the homeowners “have endured so much.”
” The DEP’s acknowledgement of the problem is a good start,” Ariola said. “We have to continue the work for a permanent resolution.”
Numerous residents have said they have for years been pleading with the city to address the sewer issues that they said have long plagued the area.
“Every time it rains, I live in fear and worry,” James Noto, who grew up in Lindenwood and continues to reside there, said in a previous interview.
There is a capital sewer project in the works for Lindenwood, though elected officials said that may not begin until at least a year from now. According to an April 16 letter from the city Department of Environmental Protection to a Lindenwood resident, the DEP and the city Department of Transportation have included in the capital project HWK-1148, which covers areas along the South Queens-Brooklyn border, plans to reconstruct roadways and install storm sewers.
But residents stressed they have been hearing this same message – that a sewer project is in the works – for too long without seeing any movement on the city’s part.
Laura Quillen, who owns a Lindenwood home first bought by her parents more than 30 years ago, has since 2001 been corresponding with the city about a litany of sewer issues and was told in a 2009 letter from the city DEP almost the same message verbatim that was sent to a resident this April.
“It’s just been a living nightmare,” Quillen wrote in a 2002 letter to the city.
In light of feeling as though the city has not stepped up to the plate to address the sewer issues, Noto said that neighbors have worked hard to take care of one another. This past Friday, when there was another rainstorm, Lindenwood residents encouraged one another to call 311 to have their catch basins cleaned and checked in on neighbors throughout the night.
“The media coverage and political involvement has encouraged more discussion” about the area’s sewer problems, Noto said – which has resulted in an increase of complaints to 311.
“When the DEP technician was cleaning the catch basins this past Friday on my corner, I briefly explained my flooding history with him and asked him if he would please inspect the basins and advise of their status,” Noto said. “After he was all done cleaning, which didn’t take long, he reported that the catch basins on my corner are defective because they are pitched incorrectly. I asked him if he would please indicate that on his report, and he agreed. He is the third DEP technician that has admitted that to me. The first time I heard that was from a DEP technician cleaning the catch basins after Hurricane Irene in late August 2011.”
By Anna Gustafson