Mired in questions over how and when decades-old sewer back-up problems would be fixed, most homeowners missed the 90-day deadline to file claims against the city for damages that have reached into the hundreds of thousands of dollars at the mostly single-family homes along 87th and 88th streets between 24th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard."We're basically going to say that we're writing to (Comptroller William Thompson) as a last resort," said Arlene Diangkinay, one of a triumvirate of frustrated homeowners who have spearheaded the fight to have the area's aging sewer lines replaced and have the city compensate property owners for damage. "The homeowners are just asking him for help directly. We shouldn't be penalized because we relied on our officials to help us."Diangkinay and fellow homeowner Ruth Turville said residents had delayed applying for the compensation while they waited for answers on long-term solutions to the problem and a follow-up meeting with DEP officials, whose agency had been slated to replace aging sewer lines with wider pipes in an effort to alleviate at least some of the backups. But residents said last week that most of the politicians' efforts had proven fruitless - in part because of some other homeowners' reluctance to share needed information about insurance claims with the elected officials' offices. A follow-up meeting with the DEP never materialized. DEP spokeswoman Natalie Millner said the agency was working to address the flooding, apparently caused by a combination of weather and geographic factors. High tides and powerful northeasters sometimes combine to overwhelm the neighborhood's existing combined sewer system, she said. But the long-awaited project to upgrade the circa-1930s and 1950s pipes that channel household sewage and stormwater run-off is probably not the answer, she said."It's just an operational upgrade that we do," Millner said. "We never expected it to solve the problem - it's not a one, two, three easy fix." Meanwhile she said the agency was sympathetic to the plight of homeowners. Millner would not discuss specific options, but some officials said the final project could involve building a separate sewer system in the low-lying area or installing a tide gate. Turville said the most recent floods occurred July 30, Aug. 11, Sept. 8 and Sept. 18. Jeff Simmons, a spokesman for the city comptroller's office, said the agency had received just three claims for the last backup, two of which were disallowed because they did not meet the deadline and one that remains under consideration."We encourage people to file within 90 days," Simmons said in an e-mail. "We do not have the authority to excuse failure to comply with the statutory 90-day filing limit. Claimants who do not file within 90 days may go to court."Meanwhile, Turville said some neighbors have decided to throw in the towel. She said eight houses on her block have gone up for sale. And now that her sump pump has broken, she's just hoping to avoid the repeat flooding in the basement she said could cost as much as $78,000 to fix."It's a matter of flipping a coin," Turville said. "It's as if God is saying, 'Let's see, should we flood Jackson Heights or should we flood Astoria or should we flood East Elmhurst? Which area should we flood today?'"Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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