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SE Queens officials explore fixes to persistent flooding

Former city comptroller and mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson made a brief appearance at the town hall, saying the flooding issue in southeast Queens is unfair and needs to be resolved soon. Photo by Karen Frantz
TimesLedger Newspapers

Community members gathered at York College last Thursday to discuss a persistent problem in southeast Queens: flooding.

And many of the stories residents shared were harrowing.

One woman said she was so often affected by flooding she worried homes on her block would be inundated with water during Sandy and someone would die. A man said his doctor told him he could not let his children live in his basement because it was infested with mold. And another story was shared about a woman who had to swim out of her basement to safety during a flood.

“My basement is completely gone,” said one man, who said it was lost to mold.

Flooding has dogged southeast Queens since the late 1990s, when wells that supplied the region’s drinking water by pumping water from the ground were closed and the area was moved onto the city’s water system. Since that time, the groundwater level has risen sharply — one estimate had it rising 35 feet — and that causes the area to flood frequently, sometimes during the slightest rain.

“We’re looking to do everything we can to try to get a solution to this problem,” said state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) at the meeting.

He said he recently introduced a bill in the Assembly that would require the city to take action to mitigate problems when it contributes to an environmental crisis.

And he said legal remedies may be available. He introduced an attorney, Mark Seitelman, who said he would be willing to take on some individual property lawsuits against the city, which may later be consolidated into one case.

He said the most important way to effect change was legislatively, but “another way of getting some change is if the city has to pay money in damages,” he said.

Scarborough also said a March 22 rally demanding action is planned in front of the city Department of Environmental Protection, which he said owns the wells.

But ultimately, he said, the time for action is now.

“You have to remember, this is Mayor Bloomberg’s last year,” he said, saying that the process would have to start all over again under a new administration. He called for a comprehensive plan to be in the works before the city budget is passed.

“We want to push for a solution now,” he said.

The meeting at the college, on 94-20 Guy R .Brewer Blvd., drew several other elected officials, leaders of local community boards and staff members from mayoral candidates City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s (D-Manhattan) and city Comptroller John Liu’s offices. Mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson, former city comptroller, also made an appearance.

Scarborough said DEP told him in a recent meeting that it is not responsible for fixing the rising groundwater levels and the soonest the agency plans on doing anything to alleviate the problem is in 2018. At that time, the agency would open some wells again to serve as an alternative water supply while an aqueduct that carries water to the city from upstate is down for repairs.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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