Frustrated Fresh Meadows residents joined local Councilman James Gennaro Monday morning to protest the city’s lack of action following damage to their residences from recent severe flooding.
Gennaro, chairman of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, announced a series of hearings with the Department of Environment Protection.
Speaking on the corner of Utopia Parkway and 67th Avenue, Gennaro said, “Repairs to the sewerage infrastructure are long overdue. The devastating damage done to property by recent flooding is a perfect example of the results of city policy that is penny wise and pound poor.”
The frustration many residents indicated arises from years of promises, hearings, press conferences, but no action. Gennaro explained that as chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee he had a working relationship with the city agency that would ensure residents’ legitimate complaints would be heard.
He also noted that the City Council has budgetary and legislative oversight. “The City Council, while lacking the ability to force the administration or the DEP to fix the problem, is in a position to influence their decisions.”
Gennaro indicated he had information that the DEP had originally formulated a budget for the $40 billion the agency believes it would take to address the urgent need for upgrading the water and sewer infrastructure. “The final budget, the one the City Council actually got to see, was only for $19 billion. “What was cut? Was it the work needed here in Queens?”
Several residents whose homes were flooded spoke about the damage suffered in the July 18 and Aug. 8 floods. Susan Lempel, who lives at 67-08 Utopia Parkway, had 5 feet of water in her basement on Aug. 8 following 3 feet in July. The most recent storm was especially severe, leaving the whole borough flooded and damaging 1,359 homes, 460 significantly.
“I lost two cars. One, a 2005 Honda Accord, was like a baby to us,” she said. “We were so careful with that car, ‘Don’t park it here, don’t park it there.’ I cried when it was ruined,” she said.
The stink from the flood permeated her driveway, although she said it was nothing compared to how it had smelled a few days afterwards.
One resident, who declined to be named, showed a list of correspondence she’d had with city officials dating back to the 1980s. “None of the promises resulted in meaningful change,” she said.
Elaine Yuron has lived on 65th Avenue for 30 years. She used to have flood gates in her driveway, but the water would come up over them.
Yuron and Lempel were among many who expressed frustration with elected officials. One resident said, “Despite promises, they don’t seem to have been able to effect real change.”
Gennaro noted that the city had just increased sewer and water charges by 11.4 percent. “The dirty secret about this increase is that 4 percent of it goes to general revenue to be spent on teachers or toilet paper, not sewer infrastructure. In addition, the water board has to pay $80 million in rent to the city. We have to ensure that the entire increase is spent where it’s needed on sewer and water.”
The hearings, which Gennaro hopes will involve other key Queens councilmembers, will be held after Labor Day.
Gennaro drew attention to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 which allows for an additional million residents in the city. “The mayor is to be congratulated for working toward a sustainable New York, but that won’t happen unless the infrastructure is in place. The time to do this work is now,” he said.
Several residents talked about the financial and emotional cost of the floods. One speaker said that she was now under treatment for stress. Many complained about the sludge and filth left behind after the water had receded. The residue included sewerage and left mold everywhere.
Ron Landou, chairman of the House Committee of the Utopia Jewish Center, said that an early estimate of the cost of replacing carpeting and floors destroyed by the flood was $20,000 at the center.
Although Lempel has federal flood insurance, it didn’t cover damage to basements. “I’ve had to put in two oil burners in two months,” she said. She lost furniture, a washing machine and freezer. “There was $1,000 worth of lost food.”
Gennaro’s staff handed out city claim forms and he encouraged residents to put in claims to the comptrollers office, explaining that they are eligible for compensation if losses are due to inaction by the city.