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Queens Chronicle

It was a collapsed pipe, not turkey fat

DEP takes blame for ‘calamitous’ South Ozone Park sewage backup

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Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2019 10:30 am

The cause of the disastrous sewer backup that flooded scores of homes in waste-polluted water on Thanksgiving weekend was a 42-inch pipe that collapsed, the city Department of Environmental Protection said on Friday.

“DEP accepts responsibility,” said an engineers’ report to the city Comptroller’s Office.

The determination is significant because it will allow the city to start paying homeowners for the damage caused by the backup, including immediate funds to replace ruined boilers, hot-water heaters, washing machines and dryers.

Work crews, in fact, never uncovered the waste pipe buried 40 feet down under the Belt Parkway at 150th Street, the report said.

They didn’t have to, it turned out.

On Dec. 9, a week and a half after the backup, a huge sinkhole, 20 feet wide, opened on the 150th Street overpass directly above the 42-inch pipe at the point where engineers suspected it was blocked.

Tons of soil under the roadway had been washed away when the pipe collapsed just after midnight Nov. 30.

The road giving way “demonstrated that the 42-inch sewer constructed in 1987 is significantly collapsed and that any other cause ... is extremely unlikely,” the engineers concluded.

At a press conference the day after sewage spewed from toilets and bathtub drains into the basements of more than 70 houses in the area, officials speculated that kitchen grease poured down drains during Thanksgiving dinner cleanup was to blame.

“That was hurtful,” said Grace Johnson, a resident of Inwood Street in the center of the affected area. “We all knew that wasn’t true.”

Speaking to a City Council hearing earlier this month on the DEP’s slow response to the disaster, she scored the agency for, in effect, blaming residents for the backup. “If this had happened in Little Italy, would they have said it had to do with spaghetti in the sewer?” she asked.

After hearing that the DEP was accepting blame for the collapse, Johnson said, “They need to come in front of the cameras and say that.”

The DEP decided it was a waste of money to keep excavating, which has shut down two lanes of the eastbound Belt Parkway and threatens to undermine the abutment of the 150th Street overpass over the busy highway.

Diverting high ground water from the site so that digging can continue would cost another $2 million alone, the engineers estimated.

Instead, the damaged line is being abandoned and a new, 1,100-foot waste sewer will be built to replace it. The replacement estimate is $9 million.

A temporary bypass system has been mostly successful in preventing any repeat of the sewage spill, though some residents are still reporting occasional backups.

The temporary system is using a series of mobile pumps parked in the area between Sutter Avenue on the north, the Belt on the south, 150th Street on the east and 143rd Street on the west to move sewage around the blocked pipe.

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