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Wait Until 2018

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The flooding in parts of southeast Queens didn’t begin or end with Superstorm Sandy.

Community members who gathered at York College earlier this month to discuss the problem said the flooding has been a consistent problem that is affecting their health and quality of life and lowering the value of their homes.

Their stories were heart-wrenching.

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

Another said his doctor told him his children could not live in the basement of his house because of the mold.

Multiply these stories by a thousand and one gets a sense of the scope of the problem that dates back to 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.

Unlike Sandy, this is, at least in part, a man-made problem.

State Assemblyman William Scarborough told the gathering that 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.

Scarborough said the city Department of Environmental Protection told him that it is not responsible for the rising groundwater. No fix is in the works, it said, until 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.

The DEP response is unacceptable. Whether or not DEP caused the problem, it should be looking for a way to solve it now, not five years from now.

Scarborough said there would be a demonstration this week in front of the DEP. He then introduced an attorney who said that if legislation fails, “another way of getting some change is if the city has to pay money in damages.”

It shouldn’t come to that. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is counting his days. Hopefully, he’ll make the flooding in this part of Queens a new priority.

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