Pol: Trees at root of flooding problem

| mchan@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan
THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Homeowner Shah Ahmed said he’s been plagued by flooding damage caused by tree roots for years.

A local legislator lambasted the city for turning a blind eye to Queens homeowners tangled in sidewalk tree root problems.

The roots, which stretch out underground and penetrate through residential main sewer and water lines at least once a year, cause basement flooding and constant sewage backup, said State Senator Tony Avella.

But the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation, Avella said, has denied responsibility, saying the problems likely stem from “a pre-existing leak in the pipe itself.”

“Tree roots cannot damage sound pipes, but sometimes grow into a sewer line if there is already a leak because they follow water availability,” a Parks spokesperson said. “Therefore, the best way to prevent this from occurring is for the homeowner to have his or her sewer line repaired.”

In a November 25 letter to Avella, Parks Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said maintenance and repair of sewer systems are the responsibility of property owners, later adding that homeowners may be eligible for reimbursement for monies spent clearing their sewer lines if they file a claim with the city’s comptroller within 90 days of the incident.

“For the city to deny responsibility that the roots can’t get into a pipe is ludicrous at best,” Avella said, adding that arborist groups he has spoken to agree the city’s position was indefensible. “Tree roots will invade the pipes.”

Jamaica homeowner Shah Ahmed said he’s been plagued by the issue for years and has to shell out at least $1,400 once, sometimes twice, a year to relieve flooding, replace carpeting and fix damages to his home.

“The water is stagnant everywhere. My plumber cleaned the sewer and showed me the roots that were in the pipe. This led to a sewer backup in my basement, creating a foul odor and a health hazard,” Ahmed, 64, said. “I complained to the Parks Department many times, but nothing happened.”

Lawrence McClean, district manager of Community Board 13, said the problem affects some 7,000 residents within the community board.

The area was once served by Jamaica Water Supply Company, which made pipe repairs, but when the city took over in 1996, homeowners were then held responsible for maintenance, McClean said.

“People who bought homes in Queens initially bought homes where the agreement was that repairs would be done by the service provider, only to have the city come in and say that situation has changed,” he said. “The damage done to people like this is insurmountable. If you have a family and you want to put your children in college, then you have to make a decision between paying for this and putting your children through college.”

  • Urban Mole

    With 220,000 new street trees being planted by the DPR Million Tree program, the concern for interference with utilities remains an issue. Parks tree planting contractors are required by law to have a code 53 performed before digging- that is, have 2 of the 4 possible subsurface utilities located and spray paint marked within the sidewalk area before excavation for new trees. Those 2 services are gas + electric. The other 2 home services are water and sewer, ignored by the code 53 law- and so are not marked and their exact location remains unknown. Therefore new tree plantings though not allowed to occur near to gas and electric are intentionally installed atop of home water and sewer services. Potential pipe clogging problems with new tree roots may not be immediate, they certainly may in later years as the tree gets older and established. One needs to ask why only two of the services are required for identification? Because the Mayor doesn’t want problems with the utility companies- who could potentially sue the City. But for the middle class homeowner in tree city like Queens- will always pay for the mistakes by the city. I say thats enough! Call for a moratorium on tree plantings until this is straightened out.