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The Civic Scene

Almost a year after the August 2007 heavy rainstorm, which brought flooding to parts of Queens, the rains came again with more flooding. I left a restaurant during the height of the June 2008 storm and saw water rushing down Union Turnpike, flowing over the curb on the south side from 179th Street to 184th Street. I turned north, where rain was not over the curb.

After last year's storm, sewer work took place on Utopia Parkway catch basins, but apparently the new storm dropped too much water to be absorbed in a short time. Utopia Parkway houses have driveways under the houses and the Utopia and Hillcrest Jewish center areas are below street level.

Sixty years ago the ground was not covered with cement and asphalt, so it could absorb heavy rain water. Then there were full lawns and flower beds where now there are paved driveways and patios. Overbuilding and illegal apartments mean more people flushing toilets or running water into old sewers.

The June 2008 storm was a typical thunder shower: intense and noisy with lightening and much rain. I remember sitting at my back windows watching the rain and lightening years ago with my children. Rain never came up high enough to flow into my basement windows.

In the September 2007 Queens Civic Congress newsletter, there was an article about the August 2007 storm. Queens had been designated a federal disaster area. Even if people received Federal Emergency Management Agency aid, this new storm did new damage.

The QCC told people to take responsibility for local catch basin cleaning. They should call 311 every six months and request a cleaning, especially after leaves have fallen. People should make sure leaves and trash do not cover sewer drains. Keep the drains free and prevent trash from going into the catch basin and blocking it from the inside.

People should look at new construction on or near their block. If a driveway or front paving looks too wide, report it to the city Department of Buildings or Community Board 8. The new lawn bill passed by the City Council in April requires newly constructed houses to not pave or brick over all yards. In R1, R2 or R2A neighborhoods, there must be yard landscaping based on the frontage ranging from 20 percent for lots less than 20 feet wide to 50 percent for lots 60 feet or wider.

This new lawn paving law sounds great if enforced. Sadly, the DOB has a bad reputation of not enforcing zoning laws. A builder submits a self-certified plan. The problem is that sometimes the builder builds something other than what is on the plan. The DOB does not check. The builder does what he or she wants because the chance of getting caught is low and punishment is not swift or harsh.

Sometimes the DOB may give permission to pave over yards. People have to report any covered yard. If there are too many, water will rush into the street, back up the sewers and cause back flow into houses.

After last year's storm, state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), with support introduced a bill in the state Legislature to help homeowners install check valves (back flow valves) to prevent storm water from flowing back from full storm sewers.

The bill would give a tax credit to people who install these vales. The problem is that the bill is still in the Legislature. Lancman's office said that the reason is because the city never sent a home rule message to Albany. This sounds like the way the DOB operates, but it is part of city government. I suggest people and civic groups call their elected officials about this law.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The 2030 plan calls for more trees, but builders can cut down old trees on private property to pave over land. Then the city Parks Department has this plan to spend money to cut down "invasive" trees in the Ridgewood reservoir to plant more native trees.

I thought the plan was to plant trees, not cut them down. At least they listened attentively when the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces members presented their desires and concerns. Remember that we are citizens, consumers, buyers and users.

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