The Department of Environmental Protection will undergo a massive sewer project next year that aims to reduce sewer overflow into Bergen Basin, a tributary of Jamaica Bay that runs into the western side of JFK Airport.
At the core of the project is the construction of a new sewer line under the Belt Parkway at 126th Street to supplement already existing, nearly century-old sewer lines that are often overwhelmed during heavy rains. The pipes connect the sewers of South Ozone Park to the Jamaica Water Treatment Plant in JFK Airport before releasing the treated water into Bergen Basin.
When the twin pipes — each 36 inches in diameter — are overwhelmed, the water is redirected into overflow pipes that run south under the Belt Parkway at 123rd Street and empty the untreated water directly into Bergen Basin. A similar situation occurs at Thurston Basin, the bay tributary in the eastern part of the airport in Rosedale.
“In very broad strokes, what this is is a project to improve water quality in Jamaica Bay and Thurston and Bergen basins,” said Shane Ojar, director of community affairs for the city Department of Environmental Protection. “When it rains heavily, a portion of the water in the sewers bypasses the water treatment plant and gets discharged into the Jamaica Bay basins. What it means is that you have combined storm water and sanitary wastewater going into those bodies.”
The new pipeline, which will be 48 inches in diameter, would run mostly parallel to the current ones, first running between North Conduit Avenue and the Belt Parkway from 123rd Street, where it connects with the older pipelines and the overflow lines to Bergen Basin, then turning under the Belt Parkway, meeting with the older pipes again at 126th Street and South Conduit Avenue. Regulators at 123rd Street and 150th Avenue will be relocated and rebuilt to connect with the new pipeline, which will only carry overflow when the existing twin pipes are overwhelmed. The new pipeline will be built using a method called “microtunneling,” which will allow the tunnel for the pipe to be dug without cutting open a significant portion of the street.
The work, slated to begin next summer and last until February 2017, will cause intermittent lane closures on North and South Conduit avenues as well as the Belt Parkway and will shut down a rarely used on-ramp on the eastbound side of the Belt Parkway and a small portion of 126th Street between 150th and South Conduit avenues for the duration of the project.
Specifically, the left lane of North Conduit Avenue would be closed for two months and two other lanes would be shut down during work hours — typically at night — during two one-month periods for the duration of the project.
A section of 150th Avenue at 123rd Street and all of 123rd Street for the short stretch between North Conduit and 150th avenues would need to be closed for a time, as will the right lane of North Conduit Avenue. Most of the lane closures will occur only during work hours so it won’t interfere with rush hour traffic. The right lane on the eastbound Belt Parkway would be closed at night for a year, while one left eastbound lane will be closed for four nights. The westbound right lane, including the Lefferts Boulevard off-ramp, will have to be shut for one night for tunneling and at night for two one-week periods later in the project.
All of the planned road closures are preliminary and would need to be approved by the city Department of Transportation.
At the end of the construction, the city will rebuild two triangle green spaces at the construction sites, one at 150th and North Conduit avenues and the other at 126th Street and South Conduit Avenue, according to Anna Walsh, a project consultant.
The lane and street closure led to grumbling when the information was presented to Community Board 10 last Thursday.
Margaret Finnerty, president of the Richmond Hill South Civic Association, said she was concerned about the effect on traffic on North Conduit Avenue and the Belt Parkway, of which the section between Rockaway and Cross Bay boulevards is known for its frequent jams.
“I’m really baffled and confused,” she said. “We have the casino that people drive to. You’re really putting a big strain on the community.”
CB 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton said there was little the board could do to prevent the project from happening because the DEP is mandated to do it or the city will be forced to pay penalties.
“They are under a consent decree to get this project done by a certain time,” Braton said. “It really boils down to the art of governing and doing the types of projects that have to be done. There are competing agendas.”
John Fazio, a CB 10 member from Hamilton Beach, said the contaminated water that enters the bay only adds to its existing pollution problem and affects neighborhoods like his.
“Not all that runoff goes into the bay,” he said. “Sometimes it just settles. I’ve seen, on hot nights the white water coming out of there. Whatever we can keep out of there, we should.”
Finnerty said she wanted more specific information on what times of the day lanes would be closed and what specific months during the project the closures would happen.
“There’s got to be a better way,” she said.