Can Sewer Repair Work Damage Brownstones?

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Yesterday a resident of Berkeley Place in Park Slope forwarded us the following letter, which has also been sent to Community Board 6. At issue is whether sewer repair work that involves digging up the street can harm the block’s brownstones and, if it does, what recourse building owners have. We’ve bolded some of the more pertinent sections:

“Emergency sewer repairs are now being performed by a NYC contractor on Berkeley Place between 7th and 8th Avenues in Brooklyn, NY. This is a street in the Park Slope Historic District that bordered on both sides by brownstones that are over 130 years old.

The contractor has cut through the asphalt in the center of the street and is now digging up that section of the street in order to replace a collapsed section of the sewer. The residents are delighted that this work is being performed. But we do have a problem with how the contractor is using the shovel on his large hydraulic diesel-powered backhoe to (1) break up the asphalt covering the section of the street he wants to excavate, (2) pound steel supports into the trench and (3) dump excavated dirt into trucks used to haul it away. Often this pounding is so severe that it severely shakes our houses. I have been in California and Japan when there were earthquakes and I have never experienced such severe shaking.

Our brownstones are built on fragile foundations made of rough fieldstone and mortar and I and my neighbors fear that this severe shaking may be causing irreparable structural damage to our historic homes. As an alternative, we would like to have the contractor (1) use jackhammers to break up the asphalt, (2) push and not pound pilings into the trench and (3) slowly and carefully deposit dirt from a lower height into the trucks and onto the street so that we don’t experience the excessive vibrations in our houses that we are now being subjected to. This would prevent our homes from being harmed structurally without delaying the needed repair to the sewer line.

My wife spoke to a supervisor on the project and he said we could file for damages after the work was completed. That is far from a satisfactory response. No amount of money could compensate us for irreparable damage to the historic brownstones that we renovated so carefully over the years.”

Have any readers been in a similar situation and, if so, know whether the letter writer has any other options aside from waiting to see if damages occur, as the contractor suggested?

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