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DEP responds to flooding

TimesLedger Newspapers

Southeast Queens residents vented their frustration last Thursday with the city over the chronic flooding problems that have bedeviled the area over the years and pushed the city Department of Environmental Protection to get a move on with a solution.

State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) held an emergency meeting with DEP Assistant Commissioner Mark Lanaghan at the Robert Ross Life Family Center in St. Albans so he could update the community on what is being done about the flooding.

Scarborough told Lanaghan that he was upset the city has yet to fix the problem of the neighborhood’s rising underground water table, which the assemblyman said is the main cause of the flooding.

“Over the years, we as a community have to come [together] as a united front and say we need relief,” he said as a crowd of more than 100 residents cheered.

The water located under southeast Queens used to be pumped by the Jamaica Water Co. until 1996, when DEP bought the company and shut off the pumps. City crews found that the water that was being pumped from the 69 wells located throughout southeast Queens was contaminated.

Due to the shutdown, the water table has risen over the last 15 years and during storms pours into the streets and homes. Several of the residents at the meeting told Lanaghan how their homes had serious damage from even light storms. One resident said he had to buy seven pumps just to keep his basement dry.

The DEP commissioner acknowledged that curbing the flooding has not been progressing as well as it should be, despite the investment of more than $241 million over the last decade in storm sewer improvements, because the water table issue is complicated.

“The Assembly member is quite fair in saying we haven’t given a clear solution to flooding in southeast Queens,” he said.

In order to reactivate the old Jamaica Water Co. pumps, Lanaghan said the department needed more money and resources to clean the water and determine which wells are located in the most heavily flooded zones.

The city is considering activating some of the wells as part of a project that would get more fresh water from local sites while crews repair an upstate aqueduct, but the earliest that the project would start would be 2015, according to DEP officials.

Scarborough and the other elected officials who attended, including U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), criticized the city’s delay in reactivating the pumps, since it had a pilot study nine years ago when it tried to upgrade and reactivate the “Station 6” well at 165th Street and 108th Avenue.

“We have been asking the Department of Environmental Protection for a solution,” Scarborough said. “We don’t think that is acceptable.”

Lanaghan said the department has been trying to work with the U.S. Geological Survey to get a better picture of the water table and come up with ideas that could be implemented sooner. One of the proposals includes lowering a weir at Baisley Pond so that it would hold less water.

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

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