The cause of a crippling clogged sewer line in Queens is still unknown – and city officials say repairs and answers are still days away.
A backup in a sewer line serving 300 homes in a 15-block swath of South Jamaica just north of Kennedy Airport backed up raw, fetid sewage into about 80 residences on Saturday.
“The repairs may take several days,” Environmental Protection Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said during a briefing with city officials Monday. “Any wastewater that’s generated from that neighborhood will bypass the blockage…and there will no longer be backups.”
The Department of Environmental Protection set up a bypass system by Sunday evening to pump sewage up and alleviate backups into the neighborhood.
“We’re pumping around 10 million gallons a day of wastewater past the blockage to relieve this community of further backups,” Sapienza said. “It’s tough work and the icy rain yesterday just made it even tougher.”
The cause of the backup won’t be known until DEP can get inside the large 40-foot-deep sewer.
Sapienza said on Saturday that the clog appeared to be caused by people pouring grease down their drains on Thanksgiving, a comment that angered residents.
But on Monday, he stressed that he simply meant the vast majority of these kinds of backups are related to cooking grease. “Until we actually get in that sewer we won’t know for sure,” Sapienza said.
Residents also griped that Mayor de Blasio didn’t visit the flooded area this weekend. The mayor is planning to visit the home of an affected resident on Monday afternoon.
“The most important thing is to get the work done and our emergency crews were doing that,” de Blasio said earlier Monday. “I want to assure all the homeowners we’re going to stand with them and we’re going to help them get back on their feet and address their issues, case by case, home by home.”
DEP, which runs the city’s sewer system, admitted responsibility for the problem. This means homeowners can file compensation claims for repairs they’ve made through the comptroller’s office, and they have 90 days to do so.
“The comptroller will cut checks,” Sapienza said. “We’ve heard from some homeowners that they don’t have the out of pocket means to start the work, and so our Office of Emergency Management is working for them.”
Comptroller Scott Stringer visited the area on Monday to stress to homeowners the need to file claims as soon as possible. He said how much homeowners could get will depend on a city investigation.
Stringer said his office already approved emergency contracts requested by the city for repairs and that he would look into agency response.
“A lot of people are in jeopardy. When you have homes that have been flooded, people who are struggling during the holiday season, they expect a real response from the city,” Stringer said, adding, “Right now I don’t want to play the blame game.”