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Queens Chronicle

Verizon to reimburse 188 St. homeowners

Corporation, not admitting liability, sends letter to affected residents

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Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2019 10:30 am

While not technically admitting liability for the costs, Verizon has reached out to homeowners on 188th Street in Fresh Meadows who’ve had to pay to replace copper water pipes connected to their houses.

The city Department of Environmental Protection in 2017 launched an investigation into the situation, ultimately concluding that the pipe damage was caused by stray electric current from disconnected phone cables that the corporation was responsible for.

In a letter to affected homeowners, Verizon said it had hired Sedgwick Claim Management Services “to evaluate claims for reimbursement for monetary expenses incurred as a direct result of the leak of your corroded copper water pipes.”

Those who get paid by the corporation via the claims process will have to “sign a release of all claims” against the company for the damage.

The letter also said that Verizon concluded in an investigation that the damage was caused by “stray current underground” but that it was unable “to pinpoint the precise source or sources of the current involved.”

Many of the homeowners who had to pay up are senior citizens, like Richard Lerner.

“If I get my $10,700, I’ll be most pleased,” he told the Chronicle after getting the letter.

West Cunningham Park Civic Association board member Linda Gordon lives on 188th Street. And though she hasn’t personally had to pay thousands over pipe damage like many of her neighbors, she’s spearheaded an effort to get them financial relief.

Gordon wasn’t thrilled with Verizon’s missive.

“This is a serious ongoing issue and what they’re trying to do is get out of it the easy way,” she said.

The civic activist also said the company’s offers of reimbursement do not present any kind of long-term solution to other parts of the city where pipe failures cause blameless residents to shell out thousands.

Kevin Forrestal, the president of the Queens Civic Congress and chairman of Community Board 8’s DEP/Sanitation Committee, said the letter was a “good step” that will help homeowners financially hit by the replacement costs, but he has one major reservation.

Speaking on his own behalf, Forrestal said he is “concerned that Verizon is also going to protect themselves against any other future damages” with the waiver letter that homeowners making claims would have to sign.

Verizon, though, said the critics are misunderstanding the waiver it’s asking the homeowners to sign.

“The release wasn’t intended to cover future leaks,” company spokesman David Weissmann said in an emailed statement. “It was intended to release any future claims/damages relating to the leak prompting the claim. We would evaluate claims relating to future leaks and pay as appropriate.”

CB 8 passed a resolution in February calling on the city to suspend rules preventing it from reimbursing the homeowners in situations like the 188th Street dilemma, compensate them and then seek reimbursement for the payments from whichever utility is found to be responsible.

Forrestal said one possible way of creating a better process would be if the homeowners were compensated with money from a fund established with contributions from “potentially” responsible parties, like utilities.

The homeowners’ plight led Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) to introduce a bill in Albany that would require public utilities to foot the bill for water pipe damage. Even though Verizon sent the letter to homeowners, he still intends to get the proposal into law.

Weprin told the Chronicle that he reached out to Assembly Cities Committee Chairman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) about the bill and is optimistic about getting it on the agenda soon.

“We’re going to try to move it on our house,” he said.

State Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside) is carrying the bill in his chamber.

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