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Clogged catch basins behind floods: DEP

Frustrated Springfield Gardens homeowners got some answers last week as to why their houses suffered serious flood damage during a torrential rainstorm two weeks ago despite a massive upgrade to their sewer systems.

Representatives from the city Departments of Environmental Protection and Sanitation met with residents at the Rosedale offices of state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) Sept. 1 to provide more information on what happened Aug. 22, when several streets and homes were flooded.

Springfield Boulevard north of the Belt Parkway and west of the Cross Island Parkway, which is prone to flooding during storms, was hit with heavy rains that evening and many homeowners said they were caught off guard by the amount of water that poured onto their properties.

“It was so bad, the Fire Department opened a manhole cover,” said Carol Green, who lives on 140th Avenue. “That water flowed into ... the basement.”

DEP Chief of Capital Planning Jim Garin said the agency had finished installing new storm sewers in the area in 2001 to prevent flooding.

“From historical knowledge we know southeast Queens gets hammered when storms hit,” he said.

Garin said catch basins and an 8-foot-by-17-foot storm sewer were installed during that construction to collect the water from storms. Between 9:51 p.m. and 10:11 p.m. Aug. 22, 0.88 inches of rain fell on the area and such a storm was estimated to occur no more than once every two years, according to the DEP administrator.

Although the sewer could have handled the load, water did not get through the catch basins since they were filled with debris and leaves, Garin said.

“The sewer system could handle the flow, but the water was not getting through,” he said.

When first responders and residents began opening manholes to non-storm sewers to alleviate the flooding, the excess water backed up that system and led to water going into people’s homes, he added.

Garin said the basins are now being cleaned and DEP will place the area on its “hot list” for highly flooded areas. Neighborhoods on that list will have their catch basins monitored thoroughly before storms and made sure they are clean before any more torrential rain hits, according to Garin.

In addition, DEP has long-term plans to prevent the flooding. It is currently working on four sewer projects at Twin Ponds lake, Springfield Lake, Baisley Pond and other areas to install new storm systems and improve water quality.

The earliest completion date of the projects, which cost more than $260 million, is 2011.

In the meantime, City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) will be hosting a separate meeting this Monday night, where affected homeowners can talk to representatives from the city comptroller’s office about seeking help on filing damage claims for storm damage.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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