Pols & activists demand flood prevention


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Queens elected officials and community activists are demanding that Mayor Michael Bloomberg take better measures to prevent flooding along Utopia Parkway in Fresh Meadows.
“We’re all here because we’re angry and upset at the Bloomberg administration for doing nothing about the flooding on Utopia Parkway,” Councilmember James Gennaro said in front of the Utopia Jewish Center, which was damaged by recent flooding. “We had a situation last week where cars were literally floating down the street.”
Fresh Meadows was one of the worst hit areas by the June 14 storm that also ripped branches from trees in many other Queens neighborhoods. Fresh Meadows gets flooded so badly that following an August 2007 storm the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the area a disaster zone, the officials said.
The politicians, including Senator Toby Stavisky and Assemblymembers Rory Lancman and Mark Weprin, added that all the mayor has done is visit the area for a photo opportunity in which he handed out “what to do in a flood” pamphlets.
“They should have printed it on sponges so people can mop up the water,” Gennaro said about the pamphlets. “This mayor is the most out of touch mayor to govern New York City, ever, ever, ever.”
Half a million dollars has been allocated to study the problem, but the process will not go into effect until next year, the officials said. Bloomberg also took money from the sewers fund and is using it for other purposes, they claim.
“Sadly, the mayor has not done his part in solving this problem for Queens,” Lancman said. “We’ve seen how energetic he is when it comes to congestion pricing and the Olympics,” he said, continuing by saying that the mayor should be just as active in making sure “Queens doesn’t resemble a third world country when it rains.”
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been looking into the problem, a spokesperson said. “The city understands the impact to residents that severe weather such as the rains we experienced on June 14 cause,” Angel Roman said. “In fact, after last summer’s severe storms, the mayor convened the Flood Mitigation Task Force — to enhance our response to the risk of flooding.
“DEP, as part of the task force, continues to gather and examine data from the extreme rain event on that Saturday night,” he continued. “Preliminarily, we know that the rate of precipitation — which was measured at 2.5 inches in a half hour — was in excess of the capacity of the sewer system.”
Roman explained that, “Sewers generally can handle 1.5 inches an hour. There may have also been other contributing factors, which we are investigating in trying to determine the exact cause. This area has been identified to undergo a sewer flow-monitoring study. Data on the cause and from the study will inform possible next steps we will take.”
Floods have already taken their toll on the neighborhood. Cars, basements and the ballroom of the Utopia Jewish Center were all damaged by the storm. Jay Goldberg, Vice Chairman of the Jewish Center, called the damage to the temple the “single largest monetary loss in the area.”
All the Jewish Center’s lower floor carpeting had to be removed; the dance floor is warped and the bottoms of the walls have to be replaced. Goldberg estimates the damage to be between $40,000 and $50,000.
“It’s just disheartening,” he said. “But we do have a certain faith that everything will be resolved.”
The April 2008 Stormwater Mitigation Study Area Report lists the 10 most prone sites in New York City to flooding, all of which are located in Queens. It includes Utopia Parkway. No additional catch basins and trees are necessary, according to the report. The Flood Mitigation Taskforce’s only recommendation is to “improve curb reveal on Utopia Parkway between 64th Street and 74th Street,” which they plan to consider in 2013.
“These homeowners deserve the decency to live like they’re living in the greatest city in the world,” Werpin said. “How can they want to stay when they don’t have these basic services? It needs to be fixed once and for all.”