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Queens Chronicle

Residents plan to sue city over flooding

Lindenwood homeowners say problem goes beyond faulty Spring Creek facility

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Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:31 am, Thu May 29, 2014.

The city Department of Environmental Protection took responsibility for the April 30 flood that struck Lindenwood, claiming a failure with the Spring Creek sewer overflow facility, as residents prepare to file a lawsuit against the city, claiming negligence caused the inundation that damaged dozens of homes and some residents said was worse than Hurricane Sandy.

According to the agency, the storm caused two wastewater treatment facilities along Jamaica Bay — one in Brooklyn and one in JFK Airport — that deal with storm runoff from a section of city stretching from East Flatbush, Brooklyn to the Nassau County border, to reach capacity, as well as the Spring Creek location.

That facility is designed to release untreated sewer water, called combined sewer outflow or CSO, directly into Jamaica Bay in the event all the of the tanks there are full and cannot handle more water, which happens only on rare occasions when rainfall is exceptionally heavy.

But the system failed, the DEP said, causing the water to back up into homes both in Lindenwood and on the Brooklyn side.

“The Spring Creek facility was recently modernized and a series of electronic level sensors and transmitters are now used to determine when excess CSO needs to be released, based upon a number of criteria including the tidal elevations,” the agency said in the statement. “The DEP found that the new electronic system malfunctioned, and releases into the bay did not promptly occur. As a result, storm water and wastewater backed up into streets and homes in parts of the New Lots and Lindenwood neighborhoods.”

The facility seemed to work fine during last Friday’s rainstorm, during which more than an inch of rain fell, but the DEP was in the neighborhood cleaning catch basins and manned the plant in case of any malfunction.

The DEP further stated that the city was liable for the damage and residents should file claims with city Comptroller Scott Stringer within 90 days of the storm.

But Lindenwood resident James Noto, on 81st Street and 153rd Avenue, has suffered flood damage several times over the past few years, including in a 2011 storm and after hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and several other residents retained or are seeking to retain Brooklyn lawyer Bruce Baron, who said he will file a lawsuit against the city for negligence, claiming the city knew the system would fail and took no steps to mitigate the problem before the April 30 flood.

Noto said DEP crews out before last Friday’s storms told him personally that the catch basins around his home were defective and were not catching water correctly.

“They told me the pitch was wrong,” he said. “They admitted this was the problem.”

A DEP spokesman said after the April 30 storm that the sewer system is not at fault and is adequate enough to handle the drainage in the neighborhood.

But Baron, who described the case as “sentimental” to him and “close to his heart,” because he grew up in Lindenwood, said he would pursue “aggressive” legal action against the city, stating that they knew what could happen and did nothing.

Though no widespread flooding was reported Friday night, several residents left comments on the Facebook page of state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), who was on the ground in Lindenwood during the rainstorm, complaining of minor flooding situations.

Addabbo said he didn’t see issues as bad as April 30, but did compile a list of problem locations from residents who made complaints, not only in Lindenwood, but also in Old Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach.

He noted that several residents, especially on 79th Street in Lindenwood, had told him the flooding problems in the neighborhood began to become problematic only after housing development, just across the border in Brooklyn went up in the late 1990s.

According to several residents, the developments were built on a gully running along the Brooklyn/Queens border that served as a channel for stormwater to reach Spring Creek.

Addabbo said he had heard about the proposed lawsuit, but noted that residents joining a class action suit may not be able to recoup losses from the city through Stringer’s office, and whether residents should join may depend on the timeframe for reimbursements.

“If the Comptroller’s Office tells us reimbursement won’t come for years, then I can understand residents wanting to join the lawsuit, but if that money is coming in a few months, then it may be better than waiting for lawsuits to work their way through courts,” he said. “That’s a decision individual homeowners will have to make.”

But Noto, who spent most of Friday night in his garage monitoring his pump to make sure it didn’t get overwhelmed, said the lawsuit was not ultimately about the money, but about forcing the city to make the necessary fixes.

“This has been traumatic for my children and for this neighborhood,” he said. “This needs to get fixed. I want the city to be so liable that they have to change these catch basins.”

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