They screw up and we foot the bill.” That was how Morgan Avenue resident Kevin McEvoy summarized his experience with the city Department of Environmental Protection at a meeting between long-suffering Greenpoint homeowners and agency representative Debra Pucci on Tuesday night at the offices of Assemblyman Joe Lentol.
The topic was the city sewer system — in particular its failure to handle the terrible rainstorms of July 18 and Aug 8. The damage done by these storms to parts of Queens made national headlines, but they wreaked havoc in Greenpoint as well, underlining continuing doubts about how well the infrastructure of North Brooklyn is handling the building boom of the past five years and how well city and state government are managing this explosive growth.
The morning of July 18, I happened to be driving down Morgan Avenue between Nassau and Driggs Avenues at the height of the storm. I could not believe what I saw — a river of water as high as my hubcaps roaring down the street and cascading over the sidewalk into basements, as panicked residents ran out of their houses.
“About 10 am, my wife called me at work,” McEvoy recalled. “When I got there, I saw the sewers were backing up, gushing through the drains and sink. There was four feet of unbelievably foul water in my basement. I have two sump pumps and it took them hours to pump the water into my back yard. Both my oil burner and hot water heater had been partially submerged. I lost furniture, rugs and boxes of belongings that were stored down there.”
Across the street, one neighbor found her pet dog desperately treading water in the basement. As president of the Morgan–Nassau Association, Brooklyn’s oldest block association, McEvoy polled more than 20 neighbors and found that every one had been affected. All lost possessions; many suffered expensive damage to hot water heaters, floors and foundations.
The August storm was more or less a repeat of July’s, maybe even a little worse.
What really burns McEvoy and his Morgan Avenue neighbors is that they have been having trouble with the sewers for years. On top of that, unlike the parts of Queens that were hit hard by the storms, Morgan Avenue is not the kind of low-lying, naturally wet area where occasional floods are inevitable.
“My wife has been living here since the 1970s,” McEvoy said, “and no one remembers any serious flooding problems before the late 1990s, when the DEP replaced the main sewer line under Morgan Avenue.” Some neighbors believe that the job was botched by a DEP subcontractor and halted before completion.
Since then, Morgan Avenue homeowners have had to replace water lines, install pumps and buy expensive check valves — all to little or no avail. McEvoy estimates that a decade of sewer-related problems has cost him alone over $16,000.
In any case, McEvoy and his neighbors, along with folks from sewer trouble spots such as Jewel Street and Franklin Street — where flooded basements were unknown before DEP rebuilt the sewers and drains a couple of years ago — came to Tuesday’s meeting wanting answers.
What they got from Pucci was sympathy, shoulder-shrugging about overdevelopment in Greenpoint and a promise to investigate the problems and return for another meeting after Christmas.
“Councilman [David] Yassky and Assemblyman Lentol have been great,” McEvoy said, “but what we need now is real information from DEP and a definite plan to fix the problem.”
Tom Gilbert is a writer and historian who lives in Greenpoint.
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