Flushing community upset by sewer construction

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What exactly the towering cranes on the western edge of the Queens Botanical Garden are doing is a matter of debate.

To city officials the construction is a critical phase in a nearly $400 million project designed to clean up Flushing Bay.

But to residents, the project is noisy, psychologically testing and damaging to their homes.

On May 8, the city Department of Environmental Protection began major construction across the street from dozens of homes in Flushing.

In work that includes pile-driving, the DEP is constructing an “influent chamber” under the Queens Botanical Garden, where the chamber will meet water from two main lines of pipes.

The garden work is part of a project that was first put on the table in the mid-1980s. The project targets the Flushing Bay, one of the most polluted and smelly bodies of water in the city.

In dry weather, sewage in Flushing is treated in the Tallman Island Sewage Treatment Plant in College Point. But in heavy rains, the sewer system becomes overloaded, so that untreated sewage often flows into the Flushing Bay.

The DEP project, started in 1997 and not scheduled to be completed until 2005, is designed to prevent the problem of untreated sewage from going into the bay.

A 28-million gallon underground tank has been constructed along the southern edge of Fowler Avenue, between College Point Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway. During heavy rains, the tank will fill up and store excess water, holding onto the untreated sewage until the Tallman Island Plant is capable of processing more water.

With no homes west of College Point Boulevard in the immediate vicinity of the tank, the project went largely unnoticed.

But in May, the DEP began working on connecting the tanks with existing pipes on the east side of College Point Boulevard, and the agency is not scheduled to complete work near the homes until Oct. 23.

As part of the latest phase of work, the city has closed the Blossom Avenue entrance to College Point Boulevard, which is not to reopen until the end of 2003.

The work is taking place just steps from several houses.

“My house was shaking very badly,” said Mary Gajdos, who lives across the street on Blossom Avenue. “The big machine was right on my home.”

Gajdos said in recent days the vibrations have diminished. But she said that a crack had developed on her porch, allowing water to leak into her basement.

Richard Jannaccio, president of the West Flushing Civic Association, said Gajdos was not alone in her problems.

“Recently people started to notice structural damage to their homes,” said Jannaccio at the June 3 meeting of his association.

Robert Gaffoglio, deputy commissioner of the DEP’s Bureau of Environmental Engineering, responded to residents’ complaints at the June 3 meeting. Gaffoglio acknowledged that the construction was “noisy and annoying” but took issue with Jannaccio’s assessment of the damage.

“The vibrations have all been well within [legal] limits,” he said. “Have we caused any damage? The answer is no.”

Gaffoglio said the DEP had offered pre-inspections to homes in the area, but few residents allowed inspectors inside.

Jannaccio, however, said the pre-inspections were mistakenly limited to homes on Blossom Avenue, while residents living on Crommeling Street and Avery Avenue also felt the vibrations.

Gaffoglio offered further inspections of homes at the June 3 meeting, telling residents the city would fix the homes if they were found to be damaged.

While most attendees at the civic meeting chastised the DEP for waking them up at 7 a.m. with shaking and pounding noises, Flushing resident Dulcie De Montagnac was grateful for the project.

“Thank you, thank you for bringing in this system and getting rid of the odor,” she said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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