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Queens Chronicle

Catch basin bill called ‘good start’

Would force DEP to inspect them once a year and report to city

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Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2015 10:30 am

A bill passed unanimously by the City Council last week that would increase inspections and repairs to clogged catch basins is one step in fighting the problem of flooding in Queens, according to two borough councilmen.

The bill, introduced by Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), would force the Department of Environmental Protection to inspect catch basins on a yearly basis rather than every three years. It would also require the DEP to report twice a year to the mayor and Council speaker about inspections, maintenance and repairs.

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said he fully supports the measure as another tool in preventing flooding. His district includes a part of Utopia Parkway that has a long history of severe floods due to heavy rainstorms and the topography.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Lancman said he had been surprised to learn that the DEP only inspects catch basins every three years. “It should be every year and this bill does that,” he said.

He pointed out that the public can call 311 to report a clogged drain, but sometimes debris and sediment are underneath and can’t be seen.

“This bill is just one step in fixing the problem,” he said. “Other measures in Fresh Meadows could include regrading the streets, raising manhole covers, using rain barrels to collect water and adding bioswales to absorb rainwater.”

He said he hopes to announce anti-flooding plans soon for the area with the DEP. “It’s awful if you live there when it floods,” Lancman added, “and it can be dangerous.”

Jim Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, said he was delighted the bill was passed: “It’s excellent and I’m totally in favor of it.”

He noted that the DEP is already working in the area to close up holes on manhole covers so water can’t get out during storms. His civic is also sponsoring a June 24 town hall meeting with the DEP on flooding issues at 7 p.m. at the Utopia Jewish Center at 64-41 Utopia Parkway.

He believes also that the sewers can’t sustain additional pressure, especially with three hotels under construction in the area.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who had introduced a bill in January calling for an annual report on the city’s drainage infrastructure, said he also agrees with Williams’ legislation. “I’m fully supportive,” Ulrich said. “But it doesn’t go far enough.”

He believes the DEP needs to be held more accountable and said that what happened in Lindenwood last year was an example of “a perfect storm” with the agency and its affect on the community.

The incident involved a DEP facility that malfunctioned during a heavy rainstorm. Agency officials said the Spring Creek catch basin and overflow facility didn’t work properly. Residents said the flooding that ensued was worse than Superstorm Sandy.

“We want to prevent that from ever happening again,” Ulrich said. “This bill is a start and a step in the right direction.”

The bill’s main sponsor, Williams, said in a prepared statement that several roads in his Brooklyn district are problematic. “For parts of this city the rain causes larger headaches than it should because of frequently clogged catch basins,” he said. “It’s an issue that not only inconveniences neighborhoods, but can cause significant water damage.

“Though the Department of Environmental Protection checks these drains every three years, we know that’s not enough to adequately ensure that problematic drains are cleared,” he added.

The bill will take effect on July 1, 2016 if the mayor signs it into law.

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