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City settles damage suit at Queens Village church

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A Queens Village church received a check for $1,390 from the city last week to cover the cost of cleaning its indoor basketball court after water and raw sewage from a city line filled the gymnasium in 2001.

Comptroller William Thompson and City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) presented Rev. Anna Jackson of the Queens Reformed Church with the payment last Thursday, putting an end to a lawsuit the church filed against the city in a bid to obtain the money to clean the court.

"They answered my prayers," Jackson said. "This was taking up so much of our time and our energy. Now we can focus on our true mission and provide a welcoming and spiritual home for families in the community."

The problems began in October 2001, when a city sewer backed up and flooded the basement of the church at 94-79 Springfield Blvd. with about three feet of water and raw sewage, Jackson said.

"When you came in the front door, the smell just hit you," she said.

After the church called a plumber, the city's Department of Environmental Protection was called in, Jackson said. DEP was able to shut off the sewer, stop the water from coming into the church and drain the remaining filth from the basketball court, she said.

Jackson hired a professional cleaning service to sanitize and deodorize the court so that the after-school and camp programs could resume. But the cleanup damaged the gymnasium, stripping chunks of paint from the floor and the walls, Jackson said.

The church, which has been in Queens Village for 145 years, sought relief from the city, filing a lawsuit seeking $1,390 to defray the costs of the cleanup, Jackson said. But the city challenged the suit, arguing that it had not received prior notification that there was a problem with the sewer line, Thompson said.

"The law states that the church, in order to prevail, would need to prove that there had been a previous complaint about the sewer line," he said. "But this was the first time there had been a problem with that pipe, so how were they to know? Bringing this to an early resolution saves the church time and inevitably the city money."

Weprin, who helped the church slice through the red tape, agreed that the lawsuit would have been more costly than the check the city cut last week.

"It would cost the city thousands to challenge the lawsuit," said Weprin, who is the chairman of the Council's Finance Committee. "What critics said would set a bad precedent was really just common sense."

And what was easier for the city was also easier for the church and its 50-member congregation, Jackson said.

"Our church just can't afford that," she said of the legal costs, pointing out that "$1,390 may seem like a small amount of money but it's not to our congregation."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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