PRESS Photo by Trone Dowd
BY TRONE DOWD
Rust-colored water leaks and expensive flood mitigation equipment left in disrepair— rendered useless by repeated pumping of excess water— have been a costly reality for a large number of residents in Jamaica and St. Albans.
The quality of life has been all but destroyed for many taxpaying homeowners in Southeast Queens, who have been forced to put up with two decades of sewage issues involving rising groundwater levels. The residents have not been able to obtain assistance from the city to help curb longstanding and home damaging floods.
The root of the issues stems back to the mid-1990s when Southeast Queens transitioned out of its own proprietary sewage management system.
“This situation never existed until the Jamaica Water Supply Company shut the wells down in order to integrate the area into the New York City water system,” said Manny Caughman, a community liaison to Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens).
Caughman has taken it upon himself over the past 15 years to resolve the issue once and for all. While the journey has included many road bumps, he continues in his crusade. Recently, Hyndman named Caughman as the head of a taskforce that would look into ways to resolve the issue and report back to her office. He has since assembled a team that has helped him move forward.
Caughman said that he has been working with Community Board 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick, former Councilman Archie Spigner, the Greater Springfield Community Church’s Rev. Phil Crag and a number of other community activists, such as former Rosedale Civic Association President Irnel Stephens, former Brinckerhoff Action Association President Irving Hicks and Addisleigh Park Civic Association President Andrea Scarborough.
The issue has disproportionately affected the community’s senior homeowners and retirees, many of whom are on fixed incomes.
Earlier this month, the Press of Southeast Queens took a tour of some of the homes and establishments affected by the flooding and spoke to residents.
Jamaica’s Carter Community Houses has one of the worst cases in the neighborhood. A man who goes by the name Jimmy, a maintenance worker who has been with Carter Houses for 15 years, said that the water rises as high as four feet in the basement of the residence, taking away much needed parking from workers and visitors. He said that the building has gone through numerous water pumps over the years, cutting into the budget that could more directly benefit residents.
“We always end up giving them to the scrap metal people because the pumps can’t handle the volume of rising water,” Jimmy said.
The Allen Community Senior Center also has pumps installed to help curb the flooding. Prior to the installation of these pumps, heavy rainfall would easily flood the senior center’s basement floor completely.
“We would have water up to the first floor,” one maintenance worker said. “When I started in 2008, that was when the pumps were set in place to stop this issue.”
The water pumps, which can cost as much as $500 apiece, have been the solution that homeowners have relied on for years. Many of them have been forced to install pumps multiple times and pay for them out of pocket.
Caughman’s taskforce has seen some victories in recent months. One of the group’s most substantial victories has been procuring investments from the city to conduct studies for the area. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection offered to contribute $100,000 towards a feasibility study that would look at the implementation of processes known as directional drilling and radial collection. Both processes are solutions that the task force discovered through a man named Doug Greeley, a former DEP employee and expert in treatment, distribution, maintenance and repair of water collection infrastructure.
“The NYC DEP appreciated hearing Doug Greeley’s presentation on directional drilling and radial collection as a possible strategy to reduce groundwater flooding,” DEP Deputy Commissioner Eric Landau told Hyndman via letter shortly after meeting with the taskforce in January. “We believe that this proposed strategy is certainly worth a more detailed analysis.”
Elected officials have also stepped up to pitch in. Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) has contributed $100,000 to the study and future projects. Hyndman has requested $200,000 from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) has made a $700,000 request from the state.
The study itself would cost $300,000 to get underway— but if and when the projects are approved, the real challenge could begin.
“Off the top of my head, about $35 million will be needed for this project,” Caughman said. “It is a significant amount to raise and the determining factor will be this feasibility study.”
Despite the daunting goal, Caughman said that the DEP’s willingness to get behind the initial study makes him confident that a solution to this enduring dilemma is possibly imminent.
This story is the first installment in a series on the flooding issues of Southeast Queens.