Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hamilton Beach: Still Under Water

By Patricia Adams

The residents of Davenport Court in Hamilton Beach have had enough. After more than 20 years of flooding along their street, frustration rises with the dangerous and destructive tides that threaten their safety and continue to destroy their quality of life.

“I used to have a basement,” says Michael Caspare, who lives with his wife and daughter near the end of the street. A quick tour of Caspare’s home leads to a small staircase and what has now been transformed into little more than a crawl space. “I filled it in with six feet of dirt and then poured four inches of concrete over that.” Without the fill, the basement would have kept taking on water—eroding the foundation and inviting a host of complications into the family’s home.

Caspare’s wife, Margarita Bravo stands nearby holding a stack of correspondence that’s been sent to “every city official I could find.” But she says the writing, the meetings, the complaints and the outcries have not resulted in a remedy. She has been fighting — seemingly in vain — for years. Despite the deaf ears she has faced, Bravo continues to be hopeful the damaged duct pipe at the end of the street will be repaired. “It should be draining the water from the street into the adjacent canal,” Bravo explains. “The last time it was fixed was more than ten years ago.”

But on Monday night at a site meeting with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Councilman Eric Ulrich may have brought a little hope to the hearts of Hamilton Beach residents—that is until the tide rises again. The situation is extremely difficult and complicated according to Ulrich. A long term solution would involve reconstruction and repair of a faulty, inadequate drainage system, installation of a proper seawall and bulkheads and elevating and pitching streets affected by constant flooding. Problems arise in the fact that the job that would have to be handled as a collaborative effort between the DEP and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

“The long term solution is obvious,” Ulrich said.” In addition, he notes, there are environmental laws in place that regulate what is permissible construction for the area. But he says, for the people who live with this on almost a daily basis, what is far more crucial is what can be done now.

“I am determined to put a short term solution in place for now. The people who live with this deserve and have every right to demand immediate relief.” To that end, the freshman Councilmember arranged for DEP Deputy Commissioner James Roberts - who directs the city’s Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations - to attend the site meeting.

The man that runs every sewer in New York City listened to the complaints of a group designated to represent the community. One by one they reiterated what they say they have been telling city officials over and over for years.

“We had 18 inches of fill on this street but some of the neighbors decided they didn’t want that so the city came in and took it out,” said Roger Gendron, whose life on Davenport Court for the last two decades has been punctuated by a painful lack of response from the city. “If the check valve was on the pipe at the end of the block like it’s supposed to be, we’d be fine. Pointing to the pipe, Gendron uses his hands to show the diameter of the holes he says contribute to the pipe’s inability to drain water from the street. “This is more than mechanics,” Gendron says. “There are serious issues of toxicity connected to this water.”

The rain and high winds that have plagued much of the city in recent months has caused flooding on many streets in other neighborhoods, but in Hamilton Beach, the floods come year-round, rain or shine. The area’s close proximity to Jamaica Bay causes flooding in the area as often as two weeks out of every month.

Now, at the urging of Councilmember Ulrich, a meeting to address the problems between the DEP and DOT will be scheduled in the upcoming weeks. “The fact that Commissioner Roberts has come to the site himself is encouraging to me and should be to the community,” said Ulrich. “We are going to address this problem and give these people some of what they want. They have to get something to alleviate their problems. And they have to get it now.”

According to Ulrich, Roberts will return to the site — most likely during high tide -as will DEP’s citywide Commissioner Caswell Holloway, to assess the situation further and determine what measures can be put in place readily to combat the flooding problems.

Although Hamilton Beach residents can say they’ve heard that song before — from a string of Ulrich’s predecessors — there seems to be an air of confidence in the young elected official who is trying to put a plug in the situation now. “He’s pushing for us and we have faith in him,” says Margarita Bravo. “People say we should just move out—that we are like prisoners in our own homes. But we’re not going anywhere. And we want it fixed.”

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