The Juniper Park Civic Association “opened the floodgates” on flood complaints at their last meeting, held Thursday evening at Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village. The meeting – most of it occupied with Department of Environmental Protection issues – was held in conjunction with a COP104 meeting presided over by Lt. Dennis Klein of the 104th Precinct.

JPCA President Robert Holden asked the audience of more than 350 people, “Raise your hands if your home was affected by flooding.” It appeared that more than half of those in attendance had raised their hands in response to the question. Holden then explained that the Department of Environmental Protection had been scheduled to attend to listen to the concerns of people affected, but had canceled at the last minute which angered many in the crowd. A make up date of October 11th was announced with the location and time yet to be determined.

Beth Huderski and Frank Satkowski, both Middle Village homeowners affected by flooding and members of Macaluso Architects, brought renderings detailing the sewer system in Middle Village. They explained that a 30-foot deep catch basin under Lutheran Avenue has never been cleaned after being installed in the 1990s. Satkowski said, “The Department of Environmental Protection does not have equipment that will reach that far down.” The Lutheran Avenue catch basin feeds sewage into a pipe that travels all the way to a treatment plant in Astoria. When it backs up, sewage backs up into homes. Sewage seepage into basements can be prevented if homeowners have backflow valves installed on their pipes. Huderski noted that smaller catch basins throughout the area also are not being cleaned on a regular basis, which is evident each time residents look down into one and see garbage piled up. This causes pooling of water on the streets. One resident said that her stretch of 72nd Street doesn’t have one single sewer, and naturally, the block experienced bad flooding on August 8th.

Holden received an ovation in agreement with his declaration that overdevelopment is also a primary cause of the flooding. He cited in particular porous lawns that have now been paved over, illegal apartments straining the infrastructure, as well as multi-unit buildings taking the place of one and two family homes. The DEP has publicly blamed these problems for the sewer backups as well.

The city was held accountable by the meeting attendees for this ever growing problem. Holden said the JPCA completed a door-to-door survey in 2005 and submitted it to the Department of City Planning in order to expedite the downzoning that their area was promised. “It is now 2007 and the downzoning has still not been certified, and it not expected to be until December at the earliest,” a furious Holden explained.

Holden blamed Mayor Bloomberg providing services to Manhattan while turning his back on Queens taxpayers. He said the JPCA would “take to the streets” in protest over the city’s lack of action and called on attendees to write letters and call 311 if they experienced flooding. He said those who had flooding in community driveways need to organize the owners of adjacent row homes to take on sewer upgrade projects. He offered the assistance of the JPCA in getting everyone on the same page.

Tony Nunziato, Chair of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force, and Vice President of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, said that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance offered was inadequate and insulting. “We pay taxes to maintain our infrastructure. It’s the government’s fault that these catch basins were not maintained. Instead of getting reimbursed for our problems, they want us to take out a 3% loan with the feds? This is unfair to the hardworking people of this area who own businesses and live here. This would never have happened in Manhattan.” Nunziato said that the basements of businesses all along Grand Avenue in Maspeth were flooded, many of them losing thousands of dollars in merchandise.

The subsequent COP104 meeting, for once, was less raucous than the general meeting. Lt. Dennis Klein provided year-to-date statistics on crime in the 104th Precinct. He said the precinct was fourth in crime reduction citywide. The Dodge Caravan was reported as the car most frequently stolen in the area. Klein announced that there are two cops assigned to Juniper Valley Park every night and there is one patrol car dedicated to responding to 311 calls. He reported decreases in all major crime categories.

St. Saviour’s Church was the next topic mentioned. The civic association has been battling to keep the historic structure standing for almost two years. Tony Nunziato said that although the developer of the site cut its 185 trees down in July, the civic association has not given up its fight to save the church and open space. He said that the formation of the Newtown Historical Society, of which he is Treasurer, may be key in accomplishing this and urged everyone to donate to the cause.

Karen Clark of Help Animals announced that her organization was able to purchase and donate animal oxygen masks to the FDNY to assist them with animal resuscitation.

Finally, Holden asserted that a letter circulating throughout the community by an apparently phony organization called the “Sons and Daughters of Middle Village and Maspeth” was really published and distributed by Councilman Dennis Gallagher. “Anytime you receive an unsigned letter in an envelope with no return address that attacks us, it comes from Gallagher,” Holden said. “He’s continuing his disgraceful war against us, even though he’s now under indictment.”

After the meeting the association’s secretary was met with a stampede of homeowners who wanted to have their information recorded so that they could receive updates on the progress of sewer upgrades and information on how to file claims against the city.

If you were affected by flooding, the JPCA says they would like to hear from you. Call (718) 651-5865 and provide your contact information. They will help you file a claim against the city for damages, which does not involve a trip to court.