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Queens Chronicle

Stringer: Calamus Avenue a ‘war zone’

Comptroller says a review of CAC Industries is in order over sewers

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Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2017 10:30 am

It’s been called hell, a war zone and what looks like the site of a bombing.

That’s how terribly residents and elected officials believe the Calamus Avenue sewer project in Maspeth has been going.

One of those lawmakers is city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who got his first look of the ripped up roadway during a walking tour with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth) last Wednesday.

In a Monday interview with the Chronicle, the comptroller said he was taken aback by what he saw.

“That place looked like a war zone,” Stringer said. “I looked residents in the eye and they are struggling. There’s real damage to homes there.”

The $25 million project — along Calamus between 69th and 74th streets — to increase sewer capacity and reduce flooding was first announced in March 2014, with an estimated completion date of fall 2016.

The project stalled last February while the Department of Design and Construction redesigned the plan, with sewer installation starting up again in January.

By this February, the frustration over the disruptive project — which brought with it parking restrictions, the rerouting of the Q47 and traffic changes — reached a fever pitch at a testy town hall meeting.

But in recent months, residents say, the vibrations from the construction work has created cracks — in some cases, wide and long ones — to form in their driveways and in their homes.

“There’s no question their quality of life has been disrupted for way too long,” Stringer said. “We all understand construction needs to happen, but major projects should not have these kinds of repercussions for people.”

In response to the cracking and instances of sewage backup and discolored tap water, Crowley asked DDC Commissioner Francisco Pe–a-Moya to send an engineering team to the site to investigate the issue, saying some residents have told her they fear their homes could collapse.

“I would like you to make sure that the project is proceeding safely and examine if there are any ways to reduce the impact of the construction on the homes,” Crowley wrote.

A number of residents have also questioned the three officials who took part in the tour about what they can do in terms of taking legal action over their property damage.

Stringer explained during the walk that the contract between the DDC and CAC Industries, the contractor doing the work, indemnifies the city from being directly sued by residents.

Instead, those impacted by the work are advised to go through their insurance company and that of CAC Industries.

Representatives for Stringer told the Chronicle on Monday that it is standard for the city to be indemnified from lawsuits while it works with an outside contractor who has its own insurance.

Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden — who is running against Crowley in September’s Democratic primary — said in a Monday interview the city’s lack of accountability in situations like these “stinks to high heaven.”

“People have gone through years of hell,” Holden said. “They shouldn’t have to go through their insurance companies to get satisfaction here.

“Why does the city continue to hire these guys? Do they not have many good contractors or do good contractors not want to do business with the city?” he continued. “Are they putting less-qualified contractors into neighborhoods that are working class? Would this be allowed in Manhattan?

In a June letter sent to Calamus Avenue residents, Crowley advised filing a claim with DDC and Stringer’s office, as well as referring to one’s own homeowner’s insurance policy to see if there’s a time frame for filing claims.

Barnwell said in a Monday interview that some on the block have been “hesitant” to file claims or take legal action, however, because they see it as a “waste of time.”

“They should immediately bring these claims,” Barnwell said. “My concern is people will see cracks and say, ‘No big deal.’ But then it gets worse over the next few years.”

“I am, as I have always been, committed and focused on holding the city accountable for our community through this difficult process, and will continue to be the conduit connecting residents with city officials,” Crowley added in a statement. “If homeowners need assistance, they should contact my office to fully understand their rights and what next steps can be taken.”

While Stringer’s office is hamstrung in terms of helping people fight the city over the plan, the comptroller said during the tour that he plans on reviewing all of the city contracts CAC Industries has and the projects they are tasked with doing.

Just because the city may not be liable doesn’t mean the contractor is not liable,” he said. “They do other city work, which has also been suspect. We are going to look at all the work of CAC, not just in this community, but all around the city.”

CAC Industries is also in the middle of the Penelope Avenue sewer project in Middle Village, which has been far less problematic for those area residents.

A phone message left for a manager at the company was not immediately returned by press time on Wednesday.

Barnwell said he’s hopeful any pressure put on CAC Industries by Stringer will help allieviate some of the issues plaguing the neighborhood.

“It’s an absolute travesty. I couldn’t imagine how much I’d be flipping out if I lived there,” he said. “But it’s much better than it was before. Maybe that’s because we’re holding their feet to the fire.”

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