Southeast Queens residents attend the DEP’s town hall to discuss flooding. Photo by Trone Dowd
BY TRONE DOWD
Southeast Queens residents weren’t the only ones to vocalize frustrations at a town hall held in St. Albans last week by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. Community leaders and elected officials turned out to notify the agency that the needs of their constituents have taken a noticeable backseat on the city’s agenda.
The DEP held the town hall to obtain feedback on environmental issues that the community has recently faced. The meeting was attended by scores of residents, many of whom live in homes that have been constantly flooded by rising groundwater levels in Southeast Queens for more than a decade.
Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) sent the leader of her groundwater taskforce, Manny Caughman, to relay her message.
“We want to be partners with Nassau County,” Caughman said. “We recognized their problems. But for legislation to be introduced [keeping] DEP from having the opportunity to pump water from wells is a death sentence to Southeast Queens.”
As recently reported in the PRESS of Southeast Queens, Long Island legislators have been worried about the DEP’s desire to renew its permit over the old Jamaica Water Supply Company wells. They believe that reactivating the wells could have a negative impact on the water supply in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The DEP has repeatedly said that it had no plans to reactivate the wells at any point in the near future. Long Island officials said that they want a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey to be completed before any further action is taken on the matter.
“We have homeowners who are literally living in fish bowls,” Caughman said. “They have pumps that are going 24/7 that they have to replace twice a year.”
These pumps have kept hundreds of homes from being flooded throughout Southeast Queens. Often, mitigation equipment costs as much as $550 a pump. Some homes need as many as five pumps installed at a time year round, leading to thousands of dollars in costs for Southeast Queens residents.
Caughman and Hyndman’s task force—as well as former DEP official Doug Greely—determined that a process known as directional drilling would bypass the need to turn the wells back on, while reducing flooding in homes. The process would also purify and revitalize bodies of water such as Baisley Pond. While the DEP met with the task force and agreed that the process would work, the agency only committed $100,000 to the project. An estimated $300,000 would be needed to conduct a study, while the infrastructure for the project is priced at $35 million.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who has requested $700,000 from the state to help with the project, sent his director of constituent services, Amir Abbady, in his absence. Abbady read a letter that the senator wrote to the DEP, that included demands to expand the involvement of government entities.
“Please conduct a full comprehensive study by all three levels of government—city, state and federal—to devote and protect the Lloyd aquifer.” Abbady read. “Second, please insist that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation firmly develop a plan to allow groundwater to be pumped into sewer systems. As leaders of the agency trusted to protect the water and sewer infrastructure of this city, you know first-hand the failures inactivity has had on this issue. DEP must look beyond emergency planning and begin using its resources to develop long-term solutions to the groundwater flooding issue in our community.”
Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams aired her qualms with the DEP’s failure to offer a definitive solution to the flooding issue after years of complaints from residents. She said that she had seen the DEP visit the community for this exact reason several times before.
“We’ve been here before,” she said. “Been there, done that. Yet, here we are in 2017, basically saying the same words with a different twist.”
Due to the lack of progress following the DEP’s previous visits, she said that she reprinted the exact same statement she prepared for the last meeting and recited them to the agency’s representatives. In that statement, she referenced the DEP’s acknowledgement that shutting down the wells in 2007 would cause significant flooding. She asked why the agency still went through with it.
“The result of excessive flooding to homeowners, businesses and institutions has been detrimental at best and catastrophic at worst,” she said. “Even the most insignificant rainfall can cause immense damage to basements, living rooms, offices and various other spaces.”
She asked that the DEP commit to helping get the directional drilling project off the ground, which she said would solve the issue once and for all.
Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said that he was disappointed regarding the news of Long Island officials attempting to hinder options that would curb the issue.
“Our voices are being undermined by folks outside of our community,” Miller said to applause. “We’re not saying that this particular fix has to occur at this moment, but that option has to remain on the table. And it should not be based upon folks out east.”
Miller asked the community to unite in order to “leverage their voices.” The councilman said that Long Island legislators had a lack of sympathy for his constituents.
“They depend on us far more than we depend on them,” he said. “Our resources are being utilized by them more often than not. But they are very calculating and specific when it comes to resources.”
Miller cited that the city subsidizes Long Island residents $8.70 per trip on the Long Island Railroad. He said that, meanwhile, Southeast Queens residents have few transit options and can barely afford to take the LIRR, which runs through their neighborhoods.
“We can work collaboratively on so many things,” Miller said. “But if we can’t work with them, then we have to work on behalf of our own community. This is not anti-anybody. This is pro-Southeast Queens.”
A DEP spokesman told the PRESS of Southeast Queens that the agency would collect feedback until July 10 before assessing the situation and making decisions relating to rising groundwater levels and other environmental concerns. Written statements and comments can be sent to 59-17 Junction Blvd, 11th Floor, Rego Park, NY 11373.