Amidst Sewer Repair Work, Flooding on a Slope Block


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    Last week a Berkeley Place resident got in touch to say that he was concerned the methods a contractor was using for sewer repair work on the block might damage the street’s historic brownstones. Yesterday the same resident let us know that the basements of houses on the block had been flooded over the weekend. The photos of the damage speak for themselves, but here’s the full story:

    “The saga of sewer repair problems on Berkeley Place has yet to end.

    Around 3:00 on Saturday morning, residents of the lower end of Berkeley Place between 7th and 8th Avenues were awakened by one of their neighbors. He advised them to check their basements because about a half foot of waste from the sewer had flooded his cellar. Those who were home found, to their horror, that they too had this effluent seeping and, in a few cases, pouring into their basements. It was coming from the deep trench that had been dug in the middle of the street in order to repair the main sewer. The trench was close to overflowing with a mix of sewer waste and rainwater.

    Frantic calls to 911 were met with advice to call 311. Callers to that number were connected with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Customer Call Center that, they were disappointed to discover, wouldn’t open until 9:00 am.

    Fortunately, one resident was aware that the contractor performing the emergency sewer repairs was based in Staten Island. After finding the company’s phone number on a list of bidders for NYC contracts posted on the Internet, he called that number. A recording provided names and extensions of key personnel, but no emergency number. After hanging up, he realized that some of these individuals must live on Staten Island so he called back, wrote down their names, phoned directory assistance and was able to obtain a phone number for one of the names. He called that number and, after determining that he had reached someone who worked for the contractor, told him that the trench was close to overflowing and that the waste was flowing into the basements of close to a dozen homes. An hour later, one of the project supervisors appeared on Berkeley Place and it wasn’t long before workers with a pump arrived and started draining the trench. By 6:00 am DEP inspectors were on the scene. A few hours later they were ringing bells in order to inform everyone on the block that their water would be shut off for a few hours because leaks from some pipes were hindering repairs. Meanwhile, residents with effluent in their basements did the best they could to cope with the problem.

    Many Berkeley Place homeowners usually find water in their basements after heavy rainstorms. Nonetheless, it turned out that surprisingly few of them have portable pumps, shop vacs and large fans. An even smaller number have sump pumps. For the unprepared, the sewage in their basements posed an insurmountable problem. For those who were equipped to deal with the calamity, the recent experience that they gained dealing with the consequences of Hurricanes Irene and Lee came in handy. They were able to quickly remove the effluent from their basements. For the few who had portable pumps that could be connected to garden hoses, expelling the liquid waste wasn’t difficult. A sump pump proved invaluable for one homeowner. One family and their tenants created a bucket brigade until their next door neighbor lent them a portable pump. Wet/dry shop vacs proved invaluable for vacuuming up small puddles of effluent that were too shallow for pumps to handle. For those not equipped to deal with the problem, the only solution was to try to find someone willing to clean a polluted wet basement on a weekend.

    On Sunday, fans were blowing air out of the hatches of a few brownstones in order to dry out basements. Piles of irreparably damaged belongings could be seen in some front yards. By Monday, several homeowners responded to this calamity by deciding to inquire about installing sump pumps. Shopping trips to acquire portable pumps, shop vacs and fans were planned by others. Many were checking their homeowners or renters insurance policies to see if any of their losses and expenses would be covered. And everyone on the block had their fingers crossed in the hope that there would not be any further mishaps and that the emergency sewer repairs would be completed before the week was over.”

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