In its July 18 debate for borough president candidates, the Eastern Queens Alliance touched on just about every general topic imaginable.
But none of the five remaining candidates were going to get out of the Jamaica Arts Center without addressing the flooding that has long plagued Southeast Queens — conditions that have only gotten worse since New York City began phasing out the operation of wells from the old Jamaica Water Service between 1997 and 2006.
All said the borough president would have the responsibility to make sure the problem is dealt with.
“The answer is what the experts tell me the answer is,” said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), to whom the question was put first.
“You have to start pumping out the wells before 2018 — I know that,” he said, referring to the refusal of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection to pump out the wells until 2018, when one of its main upstate water tunnels will go out of service for a few years to accommodate maintenance.
Groundwater levels have risen more than 35 feel since the city acquired the JWS and stopped pumping out tens of millions of gallons of groundwater per day.
Tony Arcabascio, the lone Republican in the race, said the answer is massive investment in sewer infrastructure.
“You have a sewer system that was built in the 1800s,” he said. “There are still clay pipes that are collapsing all the time.”
State Sen. Tony Avella said he has the track record that proves his ability to secure the funding and the projects of which his opponents spoke.
“You need a borough president to fight to get those funded,” he said. “There hasn’t been the political will to get that done.”
Democrat Everly Brown said the solution would not be as quick or easy as residents will want. But he said it is important that the process lead to a permanent solution.
“This has been a problem for 50 years,” Brown said. “Bring in the Army Corps of Engineers. They are the qualified people. Let them investigate. Let them identify the problems.”
Democrat Melinda Katz pointed to new sewer lines, many of which are being installed now in portions of Southeast Queens such as Brookville and Jamaica; and tens of millions of dollars more in the pipeline at DEP.
And while Katz too said the new borough president must continue to fight City Hall for additional funding, she said the leader of the borough can exercise leadership to help out in small but effective ways until those projects are completed.
“You have a storm coming?” she asked. “Every news organization in the area tells you a storm is coming? Send out crews and clear the storm drains.”