Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz hosted the September 27th meeting in Forest Hills to address flooding issues in her district, but the problem inst limited to Forest Hills and affects neighborhoods across Queens, from Fresh Meadows to Glendale.
“My job is to make sure that you have some answers,” Koslowitz told the crowd. “Some of them you won't like, but at least we can tell them what our problems are.”
However, Mark Lanaghan, assistant commissioner of DEP, wasn't giving any answers. Instead, he began with a presentation on how the sewer systems work and why they are to blame for the flooding in homes, but not what DEP can do to prevent future flooding.
After a few minutes, Lanaghan was continually interrupted by irate residents, who “didn't need a history lesson,” one community member shouted.
Community members asked questions about what preventive measures DEP can provide so their homes and businesses do not get damaged by flooding.
Ron Green has lived at 67-35 Yellowstone Boulevard for the past 15 years in a first floor apartment, and had sewage coming through his pipes during a storm that hit the area on September 8.
“It's not livable,” he said.
The issue is with the combined sewer system in the city. Stormwater and sewage use the same pipes, which are designed to handle 1.5 inches of rain per hour, which was fine when the system was implemented in the 1960s.
With more development adding to the storm water runoff and new weather patterns that produce more rain, during heavy downpours the pipes back up and overflow.
“When it’s not raining our sewers are running at less than 10 percent capacity,” Lanaghan explained. “It’s the rain that overtaxes the combined sewers.”
When community members asked Lanaghan why the sewage system couldn't be adapted to handle the increase in rainwater, he explained how long it takes to put a sewage system into place.
“The drainage plan is laid out and then it’s built out,” he said. “It takes 50 to 60 years to do. There is nothing we can do about it.”
A resident who lives on the top floor of a seven-floor apartment building on 67th Drive and Yellowstone Street said that the flooding even affects her. Due to sewage flooding the basement of her building, rats that were living in the pipes took up residence in her apartment.
“They're going in circles,” she said of DEP. “There are no solutions.”