Three weeks ago, a sewage tsunami flooded the basements of over a hundred homes in Queens. Initially, the de Blasio administration implied that the horrific backup was caused by homeowners disposing of grease in the sink (NY Times headline: "Cooking Grease Down a Drain Eyed in Sewage Flood of at Least 80 Homes"). But it turns out that a sewage pipe collapse caused the overflow.
The NY Times first reported about the NYC Department of Environmental Protection's findings, which noted, "DEP accepts responsibility" for the broken pipe.
The DEP Commissioner, Vincent Sapienza, told the Times, "These types of events are extremely rare. We at the DEP do a good job at regular maintenance. We’ve got 7,500 miles of sewers, 95 pumping stations, 14 plants, and we do a good job keeping the water moving through the pipes. But, you know, once every five years or so, something like this occurs."
A sewage pipe near 33rd Avenue and Inwood Street in Jamaica that directs materials to the Jamaica Wastewater Treatment Plant became blocked on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Residents said that their calls to 311, which started on early Saturday, were not addressed until hours later; Mayor Bill de Blasio later admitted that the delayed response was "not acceptable."
The pipe is so damaged that it can't be repaired, so the DEP is "building a new segment of sewer around it, at a cost of about $9 million," according to the Times. Measuring 42 inches in diameter, the broken pipe was installed in 1987 and had been inspected last year.
Immediately after the sewage flooding, the DEP said they didn't know the cause of the backup, but also added, speaking from a general perspective, "Fat, oil, and grease are the number one cause of sewer back-ups in the city." Affected residents were insulted: "They said it was our frying and our fried chicken that caused the backup, but we eat healthy. We don’t eat stuff like that," Aracelia Cook told the Daily News.
The NYC Comptroller's office will review claims of homeowners, but in the meantime, those residents whose homes still smell of sewage are paying for cleanup. Some aren't living in their homes either, because of the conditions.
In the meantime, other neighborhoods in Queens are experiencing sewer backups. Residents in Queens Village and Bellerose Manor say that the city ignores their repeated complaints about flooding, which occurs during rainstorms. One woman told WCBS 2, "When [the DEP comes], they say it’s our own fault, we clogged the pipe so that’s why the water seeps."