BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
A sense of unity could be felt in the room last Thursday night, as politicians and locals each took to the microphone to share their experiences with flooding in southeast Queens.
Frustrated students, teachers, homeowners and local leaders all gathered at York College with the same purpose – to demand that action be taken by the City to remedy the problem that has been plaguing them for years.
At the public meeting, leaders from all areas of southeast Queens claimed the chronic flooding has been only been exasperated by the Dept. of Environmental Protection, which refuses to spend money.
In 1996, the DEP purchased the Jamaica Water Supply and shut down the wells it operated in southeast Queens. As a result, the water table began to rise and from 1996 to 2007, it rose approximately 35 feet.
“They [the DEP] had indicated to us over a decade ago that if that water was not pumped that we were going to have huge flooding problems,” said Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica).
And that is exactly what wound up happening, Scarborough said.
The problem has gotten so out of hand that residents said their quality of life is being severely impacted.
“We suffer at our school from water damage,” said Angela Green, principal at IS 8 in Jamaica. “We need you as a community to come to our school to talk about the water that’s under the ground to help us with this situation for the sake of our children because now we understand why they might have health issues.”
“Water damage causes great losses,” said eighth grader Tyanna Campbell. “Many children have become sick with asthma and other serious health problems. Our school has suffered from water damage for many years.”
Residents from many different neighborhoods in southeast Queens also had their turn to address the audience.
Helene Martello of 202 Street in Hollis said that she has been struggling to combat flooding in her home for years. During her speech, she presented a video of her neighborhood during heavy rainfall – cars submerged and trash pales sweeping with the water.
“You can’t even have people stay the night when it rains hard,” an emotional Martello said as she pointed to the screen. “You have to move cars at 3 o’clock in the morning…this is what we’ve been living with.”
According to Scarborough, the DEP made a commitment to address flooding by opening up a test site called Station 6 – a well at 108th Avenue and 167th Street that removed seven to 10 million gallons of water out of the neighborhood a day. But without notice, the City had quietly shut it down.
A spokesperson for the DEP did confirm that the agency owned the property, however, it was not responsible for shutting down the well. Instead, the rep claimed it had shut down the well at the request of the community and leaders.
“The DEP was authorized by the State to purchase the well in 1996 and it was used to supply drinking water to residents of southeast Queens for a number of years,” he said. “But [there was] clammer and request of the community for higher quality tap water from our resources upstate and they wanted the same tap water system everyone else had.”
The spokesperson also said the State Dept. of Environmental Conservation was actually responsible for running the Station 6 test site and that groundwater is not their responsibility.
Still, the agency did confirm that it plans to reopen Station 6 in 2018, when the Delaware Aqueduct will be closed and it will have to find other possibilities to provide drinking water to New York City. Until then, the agency claims it does not have the financial burden.
“We don’t collect money for regulating groundwater levels,” he said. “Groundwater…its not part of our mission.”
He continued to also argue that southeast Queens has been historically prone to flooding because the majority of it is under sea level. He claimed the DEP is looking to help alleviate flooding in other ways it can and that the agency has already funded $1.5 billion in capital projects in Queens, including testing reverse seepage basins.
Many politicians and residents are still convinced that the DEP should be held accountable and vowed to protest at the agency’s headquarters and the steps of City Hall.
Reach Reporter Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or email@example.com.