BY LIAM LA GUERRE
As Sandy barreled down on the East Coast last year, there was one thing on Helene Martello’s mind.
“Where am I going to move my car?’” she asked.
It wasn’t the first time she feared flooding.
After returning to her Hollis home from a party in 2008, Martello was surprised to find her car submerged in a flood with water reaching as high as the dashboard. “I was upset because you didn’t even think another flood would happen,” Martello, 61, said. “We’ve had sewers put in. They told us everything was going to be okay, and it wasn’t.”
In the latest community effort to get the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to solve flooding in Southeast Queens, nearly a dozen Queens leaders, led by Assemblymember William Scarborough, met with residents at York College on Thursday, February 28 to explain the importance of action before the Bloomberg administration passes its budget.
At the meeting, Scarborough revealed new legislation he penned to force the city to take financial responsibility for partly causing the flooding issue in Queens. He introduced a lawyer who will attempt to file a consolidated suit against the city, combining as many residents’ evidence of property damage they can find.
“We’re looking to get money damages for their ongoing damage of having cellars and basements that are inundated with water and have to be pumped out regularly,” said attorney Mark Seitelman.
The DEP has invested more than $1.5 billion into developing the area’s sewer system, and has about 200 projects in place for the next 10 years that are worth another billion, according to an agency spokesperson. Late last year the agency began a new pilot plan to insert three basins throughout areas in Jamaica that would collect and pump out millions of gallons of water each day.
It helped, but not enough, residents said. They want some former wells reopened, but the DEP refused to do that until 2018 when the city plans to temporarily close and repair the Delaware Aqueduct, an upstate resource where the city gets half its water.
The DEP is not responsible for the underground water, but elements like rain or snow can cause floods, a DEP representative said. The agency is testing the wells and the quality of water for functionality and at this moment is not sure if they are usable.