Neighbors impacted by the ongoing sewer project took Comptroller Scott Stringer on a tour of damages to their properties last Wednesday, showing him the cracks, shifting ground and sidewalk disrepair.
“It’s been going on for a few years, we’ve been getting a lot of damage to our houses,” said Nan Chen. “It’s affecting the whole community. In a year or two, what’s going to happen with our foundation?”
The massive $25 million sewer project, now in its third year, will increase sewer capacity, manage stormwater and improve water quality for residents. Community leaders requested the project to alleviate flooding and improve drainage after storms inundated the system a decade ago.
Officials expect the project to be complete by the end of the year.
In February, at a town hall hosted by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, local residents blasted city agencies for issues like bus rerouting, potholes and property damage.
After observing the situation, Crowley and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell called on the comptroller to come and inspect the damage himself. While touring the houses, Stringer commented that the cracks looked like “real damage.”
“Living like this should not be allowed, it’s unacceptable,” he said. “Every house has real damage. Nobody really knows the full impact of that damage because it takes engineers and resources to make sure those cracks don’t get bigger, and that we don’t put people in harm’s way.
“Many people have spent a lifetime in this community,” he added. “Their homes are their assets, your equity. It should not be messed with by a bureaucrat and city agencies.”
After conducting preliminary research into the contract, Stringer concluded that the city cannot be held legally liable for damage. That means the comptroller can’t do his usual 90-day review.
“But just because the city may not be liable, does not mean the contractor is not liable,” Stringer said. “It appears to me that they are very much liable.”
The contractor, the Long Island City-based C.A.C. Industries, does other infrastructure projects for the city, including a current sewer project in Middle Village.
“They do other city work, which has also been suspect,” Stringer said. “We are going to look at all the work of C.A.C., not just on this block in this community, but around the city.
“There’s no reason why the conditions here should be so horrendous,” he added. “I know many people are frustrated. If I lived on this block, I would be outraged.”
Stringer said he would press the Department of Design and Construction, the city agency overseeing the project, and have a “firm conversation” with the contractor. He wants residents to be reimbursed for their damages.
The comptroller advised neighbors to keep all records, pictures and documents. He also urged them to review their own insurance policy to make sure they get claims in on time.
“There’s a right way of doing something and a wrong way,” he said. “There’s no question that what they’re doing here is taking advantage of a community.”
Stringer did not say if he would urge the city to cut ties with the contractor, only that he would do the proper “intelligence work” and assessments.
“Usually, not always, but usually when you see something in one area, it tends to happen in other areas,” he said. “We’re going to do an analysis of the work the contractor is doing around the city.”
Crowley said she’s worried about the safety of the residents. She said she hopes they’re reimbursed and their properties are fixed soon.
“God forbid a few months down the line, if more damage occurs, they can rest assured knowing that their livelihood, their asset, is protected,” she said.