11 years after Superstorm Sandy, Long Island City grapples with aging sewer system amidst rapid development

A decade after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on Long Island City, the neighborhood continues to witness a construction boom.

Edric Robinson

Oct 25, 2023, 10:52 AM

Updated 274 days ago


A decade after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on Long Island City, the neighborhood continues to witness a construction boom. However, beneath the surface of this bustling community, an aging sewer system is causing persistent problems for business owners.
"You can see the waterline," said Peter Farkas, showing marks on his basement wall from flood water that recently entered the building he rents off Queens Boulevard and 35th Street. This has been a recurring problem in his basement since Superstorm Sandy, despite his many attempts to reinforce the area. 
"I built a cement wall thinking that would be able to stop it, the water just came right over,” said Farkas. “The street is not able to absorb what’s on the street, and then when that happens it also backs into the building,” he added. 
In 2012, Superstorm Sandy's unprecedented storm surge caused widespread devastation in many low-lying neighborhoods, including LIC. Now, advocates claim that LIC has grown at five times the rate of the rest of the city. Despite this rapid development, severe weather still poses a significant threat.
A cellphone video taken by Farkas illustrates the problem, with stagnant water in his basement from a recent storm.
"Four to five feet of water in the basement, and I have two tenants down there. Obviously, for a week, they had to pump everything out and dry out," said Farkas. 
He said the recurring issue has disrupted business and caused financial losses. Farkas noted that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has pointed to a faulty backflow valve in the building as one of the reasons for the flooding. However, the main problem lies outside.
“The sewer infrastructure is really outdated and doesn’t support the growth,” said Laura Rothrock, president of Long Island City Partnership. 
Rothrock says in 2018, when Amazon announced plans for a campus in LIC, the city committed to a $95 million project to update the aging sewer system. However, despite Amazon withdrawing its plans, the sewer project never materialized.
"The sewer project was put into the city's capital plan, but the project has never advanced. We still have a ton of development and activity here, and there's still a critical need for updated infrastructure," said Rothrock. 
A spokesperson from the Department of Environmental Protection acknowledged the challenges, saying, "Our climate is changing faster than our infrastructure can keep up, and this includes intense rainstorms that have flooded many neighborhoods across the city. Engineers are designing sewer upgrades for LIC now, with $95 million in DEP's budget for the work."
"We're always looking at the weather to see what will happen. Sandy was a wake-up call for all of us,” said Paty Boccato, owner of Dutch Kills bar on Jackson Avenue for about 15 years in LIC. 
Boccato and fellow business owners in LIC are urging the city to expedite the much-needed infrastructure updates to support the rapid growth and maintain the city's resilience in the face of storms and natural disasters.
“I routinely have to make repairs to the roof, or repairs to a drain or a condenser that got destroyed during a storm,” said Boccato. “There are changes happening but the rate in which we are changing, we have to keep up,” said Boccato.

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