Final solution leaves more questions than answers
by Ed Wendell
Mar 13, 2013 | 899 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
You may have read or heard about the disgusting situation on 85th Street and 88th Avenue. There was a problem with a sewage pipe from a house at this location and human feces and urine was spilling out on to the sidewalk, right next to St. Luke’s Church and its nursery school.

Numerous 311 complaints were filed and a host of city agencies were involved, including the Department of Buildings, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health, and Department of Sanitation.

However, two months after it was first reported, the problem persisted and some of the 311 complaints that had been filed were prematurely closed. One 311 complaint was closed with the following resolution: “The Department of Environmental Protection investigated this complaint and determined that no repair is needed.”

Really? At the time this 311 was closed, there was a patch of ice close to 40 feet long and eight feet wide and over an inch thick. It was discolored and bits of toilet paper were sticking out of it.

How could someone possibly investigate this and say that no repair was needed? Who was investigating this, Inspector Clouseau?

We were in touch with the offices of Councilman Eric Ulrich, Assemblyman Mike Miller, and the Mayor’s Office), and we are grateful to all three offices and happy to report that the problem, which ended up being a blocked pipe, has been resolved.

The sidewalk is now dry and human waste is no longer gushing out on to the sidewalk. That’s a good thing.

However, we would be remiss in our duty if we left it at that. This was a massive failure on many levels, and the residents of Woodhaven deserve answers on why this was handled so poorly. Here are some questions we’d like to see answered:

• Why did it take almost three months to get action on this issue?

• Some residents noticed that action only seemed to come after the story hit the media. Why did it take such measures to get this resolved?

• Why was a 311 complaint closed with the reason being that “no repairs were needed”? Who made that determination? Has anyone gone back to that person to ask why they made that determination? Was this determination made without even visiting the property?

• Why was this never escalated to a health hazard, particularly with children at the nursery school next door? Why was this sidewalk never closed? School children had to walk in the street to avoid this mess, why was a crossing guard or school safety agent never positioned there?

• The WRBA’s 311 complaint had no status available online. When we called it took 15 minutes to get a status. We were told this was because there were duplicate complaints. How come 311 does not have a better way to handle duplicate complaints?

• Does 311 ever perform an audit on closed requests to review how well they were handled? In other words, is there any quality control? If so, we’d like to request a thorough review of this incident. If not, we’d like to know why 311 does not audit their own results.

• Local residents say there are still old scraps of toilet paper on the sidewalk. Are we left to hope for rain to wash the last remnants away?

• Is this location considered safe? What kind of hazard was it? Were local residents ever in any danger of getting sick?

• The owner of the property, Noris Requena, was nowhere to be found. How does this person receive rent from the tenants at this location? Does this person own any other properties in New York City?

• Finally, and most importantly, what can we do — as a city — to ensure that no one goes through this again? How can New York City improve its procedures?

We will work with our elected representatives to get answers to these questions and report back to you on our progress. But, for now, we’ll allow ourselves a moment of happiness that human waste is not flowing on to the sidewalk of 85th Street.

This will be one of the items discussed at our Woodhaven Town Hall meeting this Saturday, March 16, at 1 p.m. at the Woodhaven Volunteer Ambulance Corps, 78-15 Jamaica Avenue. Hope to see you there.

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