Water table level rose in Briarwood

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The results of boring tests performed on soil near eight houses that began to sink and develop cracks in Briarwood in late January show that at one site the water table level rose erratically by nine feet three days after the incident was reported to city officials.

The level of the table beneath the intersection of the eight houses affected — at 84th Avenue and 159th Street in Briarwood — varied at each of the boring sites, the report shows, in one instance rising as high as nine feet below street level. Such a mercurial water table could have been prompted by a water main break, causing the foundation to suddenly settle, the cracks to form and the houses to shift.

According to one resident, John Roumeliotis, there was a water main break at the intersection on Jan. 23, the day that the cracks were reported.

Paul Wein, a spokesman for the city Department of Buildings, would not comment on the results of the boring tests.

“We’re waiting for the owners to hire their architects and get back to us,” he said.

But Jim Gennaro, a geologist and adjunct professor at Queens College, said the results in the report offered at best an incomplete picture of what may have caused the cracks since the tests were performed three days after the occurrence.

“We’ll never know what was going on in the ground immediately following this event,” he said. “That time is gone now, and we should have been able to know that.”

According to the report, two independent contractors were hired by the city to extract soil from 10 sites, classifying it by physical quality. Also recorded were the number of blows it took to tunnel through two feet of soil, a finding that indicates the degree to which the soil is inferior.

The most unsatisfactory soil — where it took the fewest blows to bore two-foot holes — was removed from under the homes that had shifted the most, according to the report. On the southeast corner of 159th Street and 84th Avenue, for example, it took only six blows to bore from two feet to four feet below street level.

In a letter sent to the homeowners last month, the Department of Buildings informed them that they would have to hire either registered architects or professional engineers to assess the physical damage of their houses. They were also told to file claims with the city comptroller’s office by mid-April, at which time an investigation would begin to determine whether the city should be held responsible.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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