MTA DUMPS ON ROCKAWAY
But it was the sight of a truck dumping what looked like – and smelled like – raw sewage that made Rockaway Park resident Elisa O’Toole stop her car and ask what the workers were doing.
Not satisfied with their answer, she proceeded to call The Wave, report what was happening, and while she waited, shot some video on her cell phone. (You can view the video on our Facebook page at facebook.com/TheWaveNews.)
When she called the paper, she relayed what was going on, and gave her location; a few yards away from the subway station at Beach 35th Street.
When I arrived on the scene, I spoke briefly with Mrs. O’Toole to assess the scene. As she spoke, I noticed the truck was an MTA maintenance truck, and two MTA workers — clad from head to toe in some sort of protective white suits — were spreading the liquid and what only can be described as clotted masses of filth into the street.
We were about 100 feet away, and the stench was evident. Another concerned citizen, David Hooks of Far Rockaway, was also on the scene. He introduced himself, explained to me what he had seen, and his interaction with the workers, who didn’t respond to his questions.
I began taking pictures, and when I asked what they were doing, they said they were doing their job, and it was safe.
At no point did either of the workers identify themselves or the work they were doing.
Mr. Hooks was on the phone, having called both Congressman Meeks’ and Assemblyman Goldfeder’s office to inform them what was going on, when a car pulled up, and Jermaine Pruell, who serves as Director of Veteran Affairs for Congressman Meeks came over to find out what was going on.
Mr. Hooks told him, based on the smell and the appearance of the material the workers were spreading with shovels, he felt it to be sewage.
They didn’t answer him, even when he quietly explained who he was.
“I live in this community,” he asked. “Why are you doing this?”
Their answer was silence.
Both Mr. Pruell and I continued to take pictures.
The workers then proceeded to move the truck from under the elevated “A” train, making a U-turn to place the truck in front of the area in which they were working, blocking our view.
Shortly, another truck pulled up, a smaller truck, which we surmised to be a supervisor’s vehicle.
The two people in the smaller truck declined to say whether they were supervisors. One individual said they were “told to come here from the office,” while the other said “this was a regularly scheduled stop.”
Both of the newcomers declined to answer any more questions, and asked us to stop taking pictures, saying “that doesn’t help the situation.”
They then instructed the other workers who were already on the scene, who had been spreading the material (which had the appearance and odor of sewage) into the street, to now bag the material.
When asked where they were taking the bags of material, and what it was, no one answered.
When I returned to the office, I received a call from the Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s office, asking for pictures of the incident because the MTA didn’t know it had trucks in the area, and I sent them the photos along. I had posted a few pictures to Twitter as the incident occurred to give residents an idea of what was happening.
I also sent a email request to the MTA for an explanation, copied the elected officials Mr. Hooks had already alerted, and added the rest of Rockaway’s representatives.
The MTA’s response was the following:
NYCT Stations crew were dispatched to that location to clear a blocked sewer pipe on the elevated A train structure under Beach 36th Street Station. Maintenance workers used a high pressure water jetter to clear the blockage. The only thing that reached the street was excess water emanating from the jetter itself, not sewage. At no point did raw sewage escape from the blocked pipe. All proper protocol was followed.
I responded by saying that what I, and other eyewitnesses had seen and smelled did not support their statement, and said I had the pictures to prove it.
The MTA spokesperson, Kevin Ortiz, responded with a “Whatever, you have my statement.”
“... A crew was using a water jetter to clear a sewer blockage; the water you see in these photos is extra water from the jetter, not anything coming out from the sewer. At NO time did any raw sewage leave the pipe. This was as routine as it gets.
My question: We’ve received inquiries about this from Phil Goldfeder and Greg Meeks this afternoon. Did you call any other politicians we need to respond to? Or is this the extent of your trying to create a problem without caring about our explanation?
I sent Mr. Lisberg and the aforementioned elected officials the following questions;
If this was a routine and scheduled work order, why was that information was not provided by either the workers on-site or by the “supervisors”?
Why was the truck moved to block the area from view?
What was the material being spread into the street?
Why, after I and others started taking pictures, was the material bagged?
Why was it bagged, and then collected?
Where was it taken?
The MTA responded – on Monday – with a revised statement
Three plumbers secured the area around the pipe and column and opened the cleanout to insert the high pressure hose (Jetta). Our standard operating procedure is to place a bucket under the cleanout to catch any residual water that may have remained in the line — in this case there was none. The Jetta hose was inserted into the cleanout and the water pressure system was turned on. The Jetta by design uses untreated high pressure water to dislodge blockages.
When in operation, it is possible that the water from the Jetta used to dislodge the blockage may travel back up the pipe and exit the cleanout. In this case, a small amount of water exited the cleanout before the blockage was dislodged. When this occurs we clean the affected area. In this case, the surrounding area was earth so we bagged the wet dirt/sand and hosed down the area. As a precautionary measure, because the water came out of a sewer line, we treated the debris as waste, and disposed of it accordingly
While maintenance personnel were performing the work, an irate woman pulled up in a car and started yelling and cursing at them. One of the workers attempted to explain what they were doing and that what she was alleging was not correct, but she was not receptive, became disruptive and threatened to contact the police. Having a job to do and nothing to hide, the workers resumed clearing the blockage at approximately 1:15pm. They collected the debris and transported it to a waste collection site at Atlantic Ave. On August, 9, 2014, we reinspected the area; no lingering debris or issues were detected.
As previously stated, all proper protocol was followed.
On Thursday, Aug. 14, Congressman Meeks held a meeting with the MTA to discuss the incident.
He stated after the meeting he was satisfied with the MTA’s explanation of the incident.
“In order to clear the blockage the team needed to go through the sewer system, which once opened, released an odor. and protocols were utilized in accordance with the MTA’s Standard Operating Procedure to unclog the blockage at the Beach 36th Street station restroom,” stated Meeks. “Any back flow was treated as contaminated material which was shoveled up and disposed. Today’s meeting is the start of an ongoing coordination and communication activities between the MTA and my office.”
The Congressman’s statement reveals a few details to which the MTA failed to disclose previously, such as the possibility of there being waste material to clean up at all.
It also failed to address several key issues – even if, as stated, this was business as usual. The Wave will continue to follow up on as we move forward.