Rozic Demands Relief for Flood-Prone Fresh Meadows

As extreme weather overwhelms sewer systems, Public Advocate and Assembly Member Rozic call on City to make upgrades and reexamine reimbursements for homeowners

New York – Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Assembly Member Nily Rozic held a joint press conference with homeowners in Fresh Meadows today to call for sewer upgrades and more responsive policies to handle ever more frequent flooding in Queens. As heavy rainfall events become more common, the City’s outdated sewer systems have been overwhelmed, leading to extensive damage from sewage back-ups and flooding into homes. In a letter to the Department of Environmental Protection, de Blasio and Rozic warned “severe weather is the new normal.” They urged that upgrades to frequently flooded neighborhoods like Fresh Meadows be prioritized in capital plans, speeding short-term flood mitigation like street landscaping to reduce storm runoff, and revisiting reimbursement policies for damage caused by failures in the sewage system. Hurricane season began on June 1, but there have already been 11 “severe weather events” in the city so far this year, according to the National Weather Service. The first named tropical storm of the season, Andrea, is expected to hit the New York City area this weekend. “This is a decades-old problem in neighborhoods like Fresh Meadows. But after the wake-up call Sandy delivered, there’s just no excuse for inaction. We need a water system that matches the extreme weather we face, and policies that treat homeowners fairly when their homes are damaged through no fault of their own,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “We can’t keep leaving families high and dry.” “Year after year, Queens residents have been fighting the trauma and financial burden of flood damage to their homes and lives. We cannot continue to let our working families weather the storm alone,” said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. “As hurricane season begins, I stand with Public Advocate de Blasio, community leaders, and my neighbors in calling on the City to get to work and mitigate the impact of severe weather on Fresh Meadows.” Read the full letter: June 7, 2013 Carter Strickland
Department of Environmental Protection
City of New York
59-17 Junction Boulevard, 13th Floor
Flushing, NY 11373 Dear Commissioner Strickland, We write regarding the increased frequency of flooding, particularly in the outer-boroughs, and the City’s policy of reimbursing homeowners for property damage resulting from overflow in our waste water system. In many parts of the city, sewer infrastructure has been unable to handle more frequent severe storms in recent years, leaving homeowners to bear the physical and financial burden of flooding. Throughout the city, intense rain storms have wreaked havoc on neighborhoods from Fresh Meadows and Glendale in Queens, to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, to Travis on Staten Island. These storms bring heavy rain and flooding that damage homes, cars and property. In areas of the city with outdated infrastructure, the ill-effects spill directly into people’s homes. Basements, bathrooms and drains overflow with untreated sewage, damaging property and creating public health risks. These events are becoming more frequent with the rise in severe weather. The Department of Environmental Protection plays a critical role in determining who bears the costs of these floods. Homeowners can receive compensation for system failures, provided a storm does not exceed the rate of rainfall that the sewer and pipe system were designed to handle. However, that system in many parts of the city is more than 50 years old, and is increasingly overwhelmed by today’s severe weather. Data from the National Weather Service shows that “severe weather incidents” have been trending upwards since 2000. Last year, there were 31 severe weather events in New York State, more than double any of the three previous years. In 2013, there have already been 11 severe weather events, and hurricane season has only just begun. A recent report issued by Environment America, a federation of state-based environmental advocacy organizations, commonplace rainfalls have been getting heavier and heavier over the past 50 years. In New York State, a storm that used to occur only once every 12 months now occurs every seven months1. According to the Office of the NYC Comptroller, more than 680 claims were made against the City for damage caused by sewer overflow in Fiscal Year 2012, compared to 214 in FY 2011, 193 in FY 2010, and 197 in FY 2009. Put simply, severe weather is the new normal. Neighborhoods like Fresh Meadows have received promises of sewer upgrades for years, even as costs and damage continue to climb. Regrettably, New York City needs infrastructure that can process storm water – not just the amounts that fell in 1960, but those that are becoming commonplace today. To mitigate the impact of severe weather on these communities, we urge the Department of Environmental Protection to: • Examine its capital budget priorities and fast-track upgrades to waste water systems in the most flood-prone areas. • Speed the implementation of short-term flood mitigation including bioswales and street landscaping to reduce flooding. • Until upgrades can be made, the City should revisit its reimbursement policy for homeowners to reflect the kind of severe weather events that have become commonplace. To better balance the City’s ability to handle severe storms with our responsibility to support homeowners when they help, we believe we must thoroughly review both the frequency and intensity of storms over the past 10 years. Accordingly, pursuant to Section 24 of the New York City Charter, the Office of the Public Advocate hereby requests the following information: • Records indicating the number of times since January 1, 2003 there have been storms with rainfall more intense than 1.5 inches per hour within New York City, disaggregated by day, hour and location. • Records illustrative of DEP policy on reimbursing homeowners for property damage caused by flooding. • Records of all sewer overflow reimbursement claims made against the City, and records of determinations made regarding the merit of these claims made by DEP since January 1, 2003, disaggregated by date, location and dollar amount of claim. Please provide a response to this request no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, June 21, 2013. Thank you for your prompt attention and reply to this matter. Sincerely,
Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate for the City of New York
Assembly Member Nily Rozic