Assemblyman William Scarborough and other elected officials will hold a public meeting on flooding on Thursday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center at 172-17 Linden Blvd. in St. Albans.
During a press conference held recently at the Jamaica Branch NAACP, officials called on the mayor and the DEP Commissioner to stop the deplorable and inhumane flooding conditions in Southeast Queens, which residents have been enduring since the city took over Jamaica Water Supply in 1996.
Leroy Gadsden, president of the Jamaica NAACP, with local elected officals, announced the NAACP has launched a civil rights and environmental justice investigation into the flooding conditions in the community, saying the water table problem has been caused by “overt and benign neglect by New York City.”
The investigation will determine the extent of the damage caused by the city’s neglect and the extent of the city’s liability in the causation of these damages as well as exploring whether the city has engaged in the fair treatment of all citizens regardless of race, color or national origin with respect to community development and deployment of resources and their neglect of the environmental needs of the 650,000 citizens of South East Queens.
Scarborough said the DEP Commissioner has known about the rising ground water since 2003 and the consequences of not pumping out the ground water. Jamaica Water Supply had been pumping out millions of gallons of ground water each day from it’s 69 wells until the city took over in 1996. Commissioner Emily Lloyd testified before the City Council Committee on Environmental Protection at City Hall on Sept. 24, 2007 that if the ground water table wasn’t reduced, it negated the sewers for which the city spent $240 million dollars in the past decade, defeating their purpose.
The ground water is now at 30 feet, higher than many basements which has created flooding situations through out the community. York College pumps a million gallons of water a day. Millions of gallons of water are pumped out of the Parsons subway station. DEP plans to start pumping the ground water in 2018, and that may be only temporary while a ground pipe is being repaired. By 2018, conservative estimates are the ground water will between 50 to 60 feet, affecting the majority of properties in the community.
Assemblywoman Barbara Clark said this was a struggle the community has been going through for many years. “We fought the city about the water that wasn’t fit to drink in the 90s and now we’re dealing with that same water killing us,” she said. Clarke had asked the previous DEP commissioner to stop issuing building permits halting new home construction and that wasn’t done resulting in flooding of all the homes built on water logged ground.
Donovan Richards, chief of staff for Councilman James Sanders, said their office has been innundated with calls from flooded homeowners for the past decade. Seniors can’t pump the water out of their homes. What is an 80-year-old supposed to do, he asked.
Reverend Charles Norris of Bethesda Baptist Church said it was unacceptable for DEP to wait until 2018 to start pumping. The mayor has to do something now. Children with asthma can’t wait till 2018.
Southeast Queens Environmental Justice Council Chair Andrea Scarborough called the actions or inactions of the city intentional environmental injustice. “We have a city agency responsible for delivering water to this community safely. DEP knew when they stopped pumping the water it would create a health impact.”
The NAACP, local elected officials and local civic associations are going to flooded homes, trying to put a dollar amount on the property damage, though they can’t put a dollar amount on the health costs. Property damages and costs are averaging $20,000 to $30,000 per home. Gadsden encouraged property owners and those with damages caused by flooding to file a complaint with the city comptrollers’ office for remuneration and said the NAACP would help them file. The NAACP office is located at 189-26 Linden Blvd in St. Albans.
Property owners who have experience flooding are asked to call Assemblyman William Scarborough’s office or any of their elected officials to report their flooding issues and damages so an accurate assessment of the scope of the problem can be made. The community is encouraged to contact neighbors and friends who have dealt with flooding and ask them to make the call. As the standing water continues to rise each year, more and more property owners will be experiencing flooding. Estimates are that 100,000 property owners have already been impacted by the ground water problem.
Gadsden and Scarborough said they were prepared to go to court, but do not want to waste tax payer dollars on a court case when those dollars could be used to solve the problem.