BY TRONE DOWD
In a major victory for Southeast Queens residents, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that he would fully fund a feasibility study on rising groundwater levels.
The study would be the first step in a long-term plan to build infrastructure that would end basement flooding in homes and neighborhood institutions—such as schools—in Southeast Queens, a problem that has plagued the section of the borough for more than 20 years. The study will measure how high the groundwater table has risen, how much it must be lowered in order to mitigate flooding in households and the feasibility of a radial collection plan drawn up by Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman’s (D-Springfield Gardens) Groundwater Taskforce and the city Department of Environmental Protection.
According to the mayor’s office, the study will be completed by the spring of 2018.
“Homeowners and businesses in southeast Queens—we’ve heard your concerns about basement flooding,” the mayor said on Friday. “Basements that are constantly inundated by groundwater mean damaged property, mold and the constant concern over the next flood.”
Between water damage, mold removal and expensive water pumps used to keep the water at bay, basement flooding has cost southeast Queens homeowners thousands of dollars per year. Many of these homeowners are retirees on fixed incomes struggling to make ends meet due to these additional expenses.
“This comprehensive study is the first step towards possible solutions,” the mayor said.
The mayor first committed to addressing the matter during an interview with the PRESS of Southeast Queens last week. When asked whether he was aware of the issue, de Blasio said that groundwater flooding was on his radar and called it “the next frontier” in his plans to fix sewer and flooding issues in Southeast Queens.
“City regulators, state regulators, elected officials both in New York City and Nassau have to come to some understanding here, but it will be a focal point for me,” de Blasio said last week during his weeklong residency in the borough. “If the assemblywoman’s solution substantially solves the problem, then I need to get my whole briefing on this. If this is the beginning of solving the problem, I’m very enthusiastic about it. It’s a good thing this was brought up during Queens week.”
Prior to the mayor’s commitment, Hyndman—alongside Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans)—committed hundreds of thousands of dollars towards a feasibility study approved by the DEP. While the elected officials were able to gather enough funds for the study, the subsequent $35 million needed to build the radial collection plan was still a work in progress. Now, with the mayor’s support, the once-stalled project is expected to move along more smoothly.
Elected officials were elated by the news.
“For decades, our community has suffered with severe groundwater intrusion affecting thousands of homeowners,” Hyndman said. “Today, we take a major step in providing relief for these hardworking residents. Thank you to the members of my groundwater task force and our community partners for their dedication in addressing this issue. I look forward to the outcome of the study.”
Miller, who said that he has personally dealt with years of spending in order to mitigate the issue in his own home, was glad to see progress.
“Like many other property owners of Southeast Queens, I have had to undertake expensive repairs to my basement due to flooding,” Miller said. “I am pleased that the Department of Environmental Protection is finally taking these additional, but necessary, steps to relieve homeowners of this problem. This study will allow us to build on the progress. I am excited to one day witness the final product: dry basements in Southeast Queens.”
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said that he has seen his constituents in Springfield Gardens, Rosedale and Laurelton face the same issues as others in Southeast Queens.
“The residents of Southeast Queens have had to accept basement flooding as a common occurrence for far too long,” Richards said. “Thankfully, we have a mayor and DEP commissioner who won’t accept this systemic problem and are making every effort to correct the flooding issues that have been ignored for decades.”
Alhough the city has committed to fixing the problem, there is still no word on whether homeowners will be compensated for the years of expenses they’ve had to cover out of their own pockets. Last week, the mayor said that he didn’t “know enough to speak on the compensation issue,” but didn’t rule out its possibility.
“I do know that a lot of homeowners have had real, profound challenges,” de Blasio said. “So, on that one, I’ll have to see if there’s been any thought given to how we can help them more individually. I’ll certainly look into that.”
Last week’s announcement was the mayor’s second investment in Southeast Queens regarding flooding in recent years. In 2015, he announced a $1.7 billion plan to improve storm water drainage infrastructure, for which local officials had long clamored.