City to change direction in fighting Flushing floods

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After a year of work, the city Department of Environmental Protection has changed its strategy of combating flooding in Flushing, officials said, acknowledging that the agency’s previous solution was not sufficient.

But despite completion of part of the project, flooding still remains a large problem for Flushing residents.

For years residents of the area between 159th to 169th Streets and 32nd and 35th avenues have had flooding in their basements after heavy downpours because of an inadequate drainage system. Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7, said the board had requested that the city look into the problem more than 10 years ago.

“I’m here 29 years, and I’m flooding every year more than once a year,” said Sophie Rallis, a resident of 164th Street, who added that the flooding has gotten worse in recent years. “I get at least 18 inches, but I have a very large basement. Some people get four feet.”

Rallis is not alone. Ryan Delgado, spokesman for state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), said about 175 households in the area have been flooded.

After much discussion between the residents and city officials, a turning point came Labor Day last year, when heavy rains caused severe flooding in the area. Residents demanded action. After a series of meetings, DEP and Department of Design and Construction officials came up with new ideas to alleviate flooding in the area.

Since then, the DEP has installed 42 seepage basins and cleaned dirty pipes in the system, according to Geoffrey Ryan, spokesman for the agency.

After the city discovered that the area was also being flooded by water from outside the drainage area, Ryan said the DDC began work to redirect the runoff last year.

But many residents thought this work was not enough, and they called for a new drainage system with completely new pipes. Now, after a year of investigation, the agency has come to the conclusion that some new pipes are in fact needed.

“We are now devising the plan for the replacement of the pipes that are not appropriate,” said Ryan. He said the problem with the current pipes was more extensive than the DEP originally had estimated. “Essentially, the place will have a new sewer structure,” said Ryan.

He said he could not estimate when the project would be complete.

But Stuart Wershub, spokesman for the Department of Design and Construction, said the DDC’s portion of the project had “done the work that the DEP asked us to do. I think it was done officially three or four months ago.”

Ryan was surprised to hear that the DDC had finished its portion of the project. He estimated that the runoff from other areas of Flushing to the flooded system accounted for about 20 percent of the total water in the system. “Assuming that the work was done, the flooding should be less,” he said.

But Rallis said she had not noticed a decrease in flooding in the last few months. “On Aug. 13, we all got flooded on the block,” she said.

“For a long time, the assemblyman and the residents were calling for a new system. But the DEP was trying to attack it with a Band Aid approach,” said Delgado.

Delgado noted that the DEP was responsive. “We’re happy that they acknowledged that they need two new pipes. They have listened to us the entire time; whether or not they chose the best course of action is a different story.”

Although Rallis agreed that some officials of the DEP had listened to her complaints, she was not pleased.

“I haven’t heard from them,” she said. “When they put it in black and white, I’d like to see it.”

Rallis said cracks were beginning to appear in her basement from the flooding, but until the city fixes the drainage system for good, she sees no point in trying to fix her basement.

“When are they going to do this?” she asked.

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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