BY JAMES FARRELL
A spout of dirty sewer water began emerging from a manhole in College Point’s MacNeil Park this past weekend, alarming residents, local activists and elected officials.
The geyser was caused by a broken pipe connected to a bathroom in MacNeil Park—an unintentional casualty of the Department of Design and Construction’s (DDC) ongoing sewer infrastructure work in the neighborhood, the agency told the Queens Tribune on Wednesday. The issue is expected to be fixed by the end of the week.
The sewer infrastructure in question beneath MacNeil Park is under the jurisdiction of the city’s Parks Department. When reached for comment, Parks spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said that Parks plumbers were at the site on Aug. 7 addressing the issue and that “the waste was removed from the park.”
“There was a blockage in the sewer line which has caused a backup in the park,” she said.
She later informed the Queens Tribune that the issue was caused by “a DDC contractor who was doing work in the area—and so, DDC is working to resolve the larger issue with the sewer lines.”
The DDC is working on a $15.2 million sewer infrastructure project in College Point to replace cast-iron water mains and sanitary sewer lines and install a new storm sewer system—including a controversial outfall pipe through MacNeil Park that sparked outrage among local environmentalists who say that the pipe would empty untreated sewage onto state-protected wetlands and oyster habitats.
DDC spokesman Ian Michaels explained that, at some point during the infrastructure project, workers inadvertently broke a pipe connecting the MacNeil Park bathroom to a sewer line in the street while driving sheeting into the ground in order to shore up trenches being dug out for construction.
“That pipe, which for whatever reason I cannot explain, was unmapped,” Michaels said, meaning that workers were unaware of the pipe’s existence.
Michaels said that the sewage system in the park works through a pumping system—when sewage fills a tank near the bathroom, a pump kicks in, funneling it along the now-broken pipe to the sewer line in the street. That means there is no continuous flow of sewage through the pipe, so DDC was unaware of the broken pipe until the tank recently filled, activating the pump and creating a backup that overflowed through a manhole in the park—creating this weekend’s geyser. Michaels said that the issue would be fixed by Friday.
A video taken by College Point resident Steven Cervino shows brown liquid gushing from the ground and creating a small lake in the grass.
Cervino said that the site frequently has puddles which have been more prevalent in the past two or three months.
Cervino’s brother, James, is a marine biologist who serves as president of the Coastal Preservation Network (CPN) and chairman of Community Board 7’s environmental and sanitation committee. CPN opposed the MacNeil Park outfall pipe since the group was conducting environmental work near where the pipe would empty. James Cervino determined that the water had raw sewage in it after he performed tests that revealed fecal coliform and enterococcus.
“People can get severely sick” from such bacteria, James Cervino said.
Cervino and his brother alerted state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) to the sewage “geyser,” prompting Avella to write a letter to the Parks Department, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Department of Environmental Protection, requesting that they “jointly” inspect the location.
“At no time is it ever acceptable for raw sewage to be flowing out of the ground like a geyser, especially at a public park,” Avella said. “The city needs to finally do its job and begin to take care of the unsanitary conditions that exist throughout the city.”
Griffin Pallen, a College Point resident who lives near the park, also said that the water had been sitting in the spot for “quite some time.”
“It started bubbling at least a week ago,” he said on Tuesday.
Pallen provided a picture showing the area after the Parks Department cleaned up the waste, with damp ground, a smaller remnant of the puddle and yellow caution tape around the site.
“Tape is a good way to contain bacterial pathogens,” quipped James Cervino.