Flooding fix questioned by residents

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Every time Myriam and Bill Ortiz go on vacation, the Whitestone residents watch the New York weather report with trepidation.

In heavy downpours, water pours into their basement and the couple worries about damage.

“We always get water inside our basement since we bought the house 28 years ago,” Myriam Ortiz said.

The Ortizes and about 30 of their neighbors poured into a meeting at the St. Alphonsus Church Thursday evening to discuss flooding along the northbound Whitestone Expressway service road. City Department of Environmental Protection and city Department of Design and Construction officials attended the meeting, which was organized by Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing).

With one major sewer project nearly complete, residents said flooding continues to plague them, and they worried that further work will not solve the problem.

The city is working on three separate projects aimed at preventing flooding off the Whitestone Expressway in both Whitestone and Flushing.

The city has nearly finished an $8.7 million storm and sanitary sewer line running along the northbound Whitestone Expressway service road from 25th Road to Linden Place, along Linden Place from the service road to 32nd Avenue, and along 31st Road from Linden Place to 137th Street. The work, which includes street improvements, is slated to be completed over the next two months.

A shorter, $4.2 million storm and sanitary sewer line will continue along the northbound Whitestone Expressway service road from Farrington Street and Higgins Street, and along Higgins Street from the service road to 32nd Avenue. Construction is expected to start soon and be completed next summer.

The city also plans to install $1.44 million in seepage basins throughout the borough, including 10 seepage basins in the area east of the Whitestone Expressway in a project slated to begin in one year.

Some residents said the near completion of the first storm and sanitary sewer line had helped to reduce flooding, while others said their troubles continued unabated.

At the meeting, residents described their flooding experiences.

One man said an elderly woman once had to be rescued from the top of a Volkswagen Beetle as the flood waters rose around the car.

Several people said flooding in the basement had ruined their cars by destroying the vehicles’ electrical circuits.

Chun Hung Ip, who lives along the Whitestone Expressway service road, said water in his basement continues to go up to his waist during heavy downpours. To help correct the problem, he bought a pump.

“I spent a lot of money on that, about $2,000,” Ip said.

Residents expressed concern that the sanitary and sewer line was not being extended along the expressway from 25th Road to 21st Avenue, where the worst of the flooding has occurred.

Mehdi Asharian, a DDC engineer, said continuing the sewer line north of 25th Road was difficult since the section was on an incline and water would have to be pumped uphill.

“25th Road is a high point and a storm sewer cannot go in that section,” Asharian said.

About a dozen seepage basins already exist in the area of the flooding. Unlike catch basins, which connect to sewer lines, seepage basins dump collected storm water into the ground to be absorbed by the soil.

None of the planned seepage basins, however, are planned for the service road, and residents worried they would not help.

“Where you guys have put all these seepage basins is not where the flooding occurs,” said Elliot Chapnik, who lives along the Whitestone Expressway service road. “You are still going to get flooding along the parkway ... You are taking partial measures that are not going to solve the problem.”

The three engineers who attended the meeting were with the DDC and not the DEP, although DEP officials did attend. The DDC engineers are responsible for implementing the DEP’s plan for seepage basins, but had no input in the decision to build seepage basins instead of storm sewers.

Neither the DDC engineers nor the DEP officials could assure residents that the seepage basins would stop the flooding, although they expressed confidence that DEP engineers who proposed the design came up with an adequate solution.

DEP officials promised to provide residents faced with flooding with a copy of the study, which recommended seepage basins and not an extension of the sewer line.

“The question still remains: Is this going to be sufficient?” Liu asked. “Clearly there is a lot of frustration, and there’s good reason for the frustration.”

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

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