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Astorians criticize city over flooding

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Flooding is getting worse in Astoria, members of the Greater Astoria Civic Association told officials from the city Department of Environmental Protection last week.

Citing over−development and unresponsive maintenance crews, residents at the Oct. 7 meeting described flooded basements and torrents of water flowing down the street past clogged catch basins.

City Councilman Peter Vallone (D−Astoria) said he has received many more complaints from residents in recent months about flooding after large rainstorms than in years past.

“Flooding in Astoria has damaged homes and could create dangerous conditions on our streets,” he said. “We must do something to stop this problem before it grows worse.”

Vallone and DEP representatives encouraged residents to call his office or 311 if they experience problems with flooding.

Christopher Villari, the borough’s coordinator at the DEP, told residents that the agency will come and clean storm drains if they are clogged with debris, but asked home owners to sweep away leaves or small debris with a broom.

The suggestion irritated some residents.

“How will the civic or the city address problems with the sewer lines?” asked Maria Mastriagiacomo, 50. “You’re telling me we have to clean our own corners. What is the city going to do? It’s frustrating. It’s unbelievab­le.”

Vallone said his office does what it can to get DEP staff out to clean catch basins on residential streets in his district.

“Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t,” he said.

Astoria’s situation is compounded by its proximity to the Bowery Bay sewage treatment plant, a major facility that serves Astoria and Jackson Heights.

Officials said that because part of the treatment process involves natural bacteria, the plant must severely restrict its intake pipes during storms to prevent high volumes of water from wiping out the microbial colonies.

“We have to make sure it doesn’t get washed out,” Villari said.

That means water backs up along the street and into people’s homes.

Villari said Astoria has a combined sewer system that combines water from the street and buildings into one source. The system has become more taxed as one− and two−family homes are replaced by large residential buildings, he said.

“There is a formula that every developer has to submit for their projects showing that their water can be absorbed by the system,” Villari said. “We try to make sure that the system can handle what they are putting in.”

To alleviate the situation, the DEP has replaced one of the old pumps at the Bowery Bay Sewage Treatment plant, adding 30 percent more capacity over the 40−year−old device, said Nicholas Politis, an engineer at the plant.

The pump was only certified by the state last week, he said, which meant it was not functioning during the rain from Tropical Storm Hanna in September.

A second new pump is also being brought in, Politis said, though it will not be online until next summer.

The plant, built in 1939, currently has a capacity of 300 million gallons of water a day, Politis said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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