The root of the problem? The roots themselves
by Shane Miller
Aug 22, 2012 | 2508 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A state senator is demanding the city take responsibility for street trees whose roots are causing issues with the sewer lines of homeowners.

State Senator Tony Avella was joined by Queens homeowner Shah Ahmed, who said the roots from a tree in front of his house on 180th Street in Jamaica are the source of sewer line problems he has been experiencing since he moved there in 2000.

Tired of spending money every year to have someone cut the roots, as well as paying for the damage that occurs when his basement floods every two years or so, he has reached out to several city agencies, but to date has received no response.

“The city should realize that this is a problem and fix it,” he said.

Avella said that since taking office last year, he has received dozens of complaints from homeowners who say that the roots from city-owned trees have penetrated their sewer lines, causing backups.

The state senator said that when contacted, Parks Department officials said that it is impossible for roots to penetrate sewer lines, and the problem likely occurred because of a pre-existing leak or crack, which is not the department’s responsibility.

“How does the Parks Department expect middle-class homeowners to engage in the expensive and complicated process of preventive work to protect their pipes against the infiltration of city roots?” asked Avella.

A Parks Department spokesperson confirmed that it is the department’s assertion that it is the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain the sewer lines, which would solve the problem.

“Tree roots cannot damage sound pipes, but sometimes grow into a sewer line if there is already a leak because they follow water availability,” said the agency representative. “Therefore, the best way to prevent this from occurring is for the homeowner to have his or her sewer line repaired.”

In Community Board 13, where Ahmed lives, the problem has become such an issue that the board passed a resolution calling on the city to accept responsibility, and compensate homeowners who have already paid to fix water and sewer lines or sidewalks damaged by city-owned trees.

And the cost can be expensive. According to CB13 district manager Lawrence McClean, three homeowners in the district spent a collective $40,000 of their own money repairing damage caused by city tree roots.

McClean estimates that between 7,000 and 8,000 homeowners in the CB13 area are dealing with this issue. It’s such a problem in the district, that the board hosted a town hall specifically on the issue.

The Department of Environmental Protection refused to comment, stating that it was a Parks Department issue.

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