While the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation are accused of pointing fingers at each other over a stretch of road in Fresh Meadows that is caving in, area residents fear a total collapse could be imminent.
On Monday, City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) joined civic leaders and several dozen concerned citizens on 179th Street between 75th Avenue and Union Turnpike to call on the DEP to expedite the investigation and repair of the problem, which they say has been in the making for years.
The cave-in has created unsafe conditions for both drivers and pedestrians, they say, with parked cars noticeably tilted as a result of a large dip near the middle of the road.
“The street has sunk over a foot and a half in height,” a press release from Lancman’s office says. “Residents fear that by delaying the street’s repair, pipes underneath the street will break, worsening the problem.”
One resident who did not want his name published suggested that the problem stems from construction work that took place over a decade ago.
“They dug a ditch 25 feet deep 12 or 13 years ago to put in a sewer. They refilled it with dirt and repaved it. The dirt settled. Now you see the result,” he said.
According to the man, who has lived on the block since 1937, the street has been sinking “a little bit every year” but it only “became apparent two or three years ago.”
Another 30-years-plus resident said he started noticing the problem about a year ago. According to Mel Goldman, “A water pipe broke somewhere. The street flooded. Ultimately, everything collapsed. Quite a few of us called City Council people, but nothing happened.”
Goldman added that “every once in a while someone looks at it, they mark the street with red paint, they take pictures, but nothing happened.”
He shared the thoughts of many in attendance when he said, “One day it will be a disaster.”
Jim DeBonet, a member of the Flushing Heights Civic Association, said, “This street never had a problem until DEP came in and dug it up. It continues to sink down. They say it’s not their problem. Someone has to fix it before someone gets killed.”
The block captain of the Utopia Estates Civic Association, MaryAnn Giammarco, agreed, saying, “A child is going to get hurt or we’re going to have a cave-in.”
For a residential neighborhood, the street is heavily traveled by cars and commercial traffic that use 179th Street to cross Union Turnpike or as a shortcut to the Grand Central Parkway, according to area homeowners.
Gaile Labelle, who has owned a home on the block for 16 years, said, “I’m worried the street will swallow us. We have a lot of heavy trucks going down the street.”
Calling the problem “a serious nuisance” and “potentially dangerous,” Lancman expressed frustration on behalf of the residents when he said, “Not only will the cave-in drain value away from these homes, but at some point, a driver is going to suddenly swerve to avoid it and hit somebody. We’ll have a tragedy on our hands.”
Rozic added that the issue is a “chronic problem,” saying, “We hope the city will do its due diligence.”
Lancman’s office indicated that the “DEP is currently in the process of investigating whether the cave-in was caused by a leak stemming from the private sewer lines of nearby residents. According to DEP protocol, problems stemming from privately owned lines become the financial responsibility of the residents that own them. Because the street is collapsing parallel to DEP’s own sewer lines, it seems unlikely that the source of the problem stems from any one household.”
Sheree Liu, who owns the home directly in front of the caved-in area, said, “Whenever I see Con Edison, I talk to them. They say it’s not their problem. When we drive, it’s very dangerous,” especially when the road is covered with snow.”
Representing Community Board 8, Martha Taylor said, “It’s a busy street. The community board is very anxious to resolve the problem. It’s got to be fixed as soon as possible.”
The DOT referred questions to the DEP, which requested them to be sent via email but then did not respond once they were.