For Pat Donovan, a 26-year resident of the neighborhood, flooding has been an issue for more than two decades. The knee-high water goes into her basement and garage. Chairs, walls, floors televisions and anything on the floor is affected.
“Now we have things raised up on platforms. We try to keep it off the floor, which is a hell of a way to live,” she said. “Some people want to go down in their basement and sit and watch TV. I can’t do that.”
Following a particularly bad storm in 2007, the city, recognizing the damage, promised an upgrade of Middle Village’s sewer system. Nearly a decade later, the $22 million project was finally announced at the community board in June 2016.
But the sewer project, overseen by the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), hit a major snag last December. The contractor, CAC Industries, found lead-contaminated soil at the construction site.
According to Councilman Robert Holden, the contractor dumped the toxic soil one block from PS/IS 128, and left the soil uncovered for months.
“I was outraged and so were the parents,” Holden said. “Uncovered soil with contaminated lead is not good for anyone, much less children.”
The soil was eventually taken “with a special handler” to be disposed in New Jersey. In the meantime, the sewer project was halted altogether, leaving residents with pothole-filled and uneven streets, malfunctioning sewers and, in many cases, property damage.
Last Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer joined local elected officials to tour damaged homes and conditions along 74th Street. Stringer also announced that his office will expedite two change orders, an $8 million addition, to move the project along.
“The city administration takes a very laid back approach to emergency situations. Every time you have a change order or delay, there are people in communities who are really suffering,” he said. “I really wanted to come out and be part of the solution, to see firsthand some of the people living through this.”
The comptroller added that he has already reached out to DDC, and expects the city agency to go over the contract and what needs to be done.
Holden, who sounded the alarm about the contaminated soil, said that issue should not have stalled the project for nearly a year.
“Not only what’s happening on the construction site here, but you have flooding in the basement, you have flooding everywhere,” he said. “That costs the homeowner.”
“With every steady heavy rainfall, we live in fear of flooding and raw sewage coming up from toilets,” added State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “It’s not a pretty sight.”
Nancy Demino, a 10-year resident of the area, said every time it rains hard, the electricity or cable goes out. But the impact is larger than just the outages –– it’s affecting her children.
“My daughter, when it heavily rains, she actually locks herself in the closet and cries,” Demino said. “She says, ‘Mom, we’re going to get flooded again. I don’t want to go through this again.’
“This is getting bad and vicious,” she added. “It’s not fair to the kids who have to grow up in this kind of environment.”
Donovan expressed skepticism about the project. She demanded to know where the money has gone since residents started feeling the effects of the flooding.
“Until I see it happen, then I’ll believe it,” she said. “This little walkaround? Been there, done that.”
After touring several homes, Holden said he’s also worried about the street, which seem to be “going up and down in some areas.” The councilman said he wants city engineers to take a look at it.
“We’re concerned about a block staying in one piece and not sinking,” he said. “It seems too severe not to worry.”
As for the timeline for the sewer project moving forward, Stringer said he will ask those questions as part of his “due diligence.” But Holden noted that the project was supposed to be complete this past summer.
The councilman said he was told the construction would start up again “around Thanksgiving,” which he said was unacceptable, given how the winter months can impact the site.
“We want this project to start up soon,” Holden said. “Thanksgiving is not good enough.”