That is especially good news for residents in Fresh Meadows, who have been plagued by failing water pipes that an independent consultant traced to stray electrical current emanating from underground lines owned by Verizon.
“This bill will finally make sure that these utility companies compensate you for damages to your pipes,” State Senator John Liu told frustrated residents at a press conference on Friday. “More importantly, it will make sure they maintain their underground infrastructure in the first place.”
While Verizon has been making the switch to fiber optic FiOS cables, some of its older underground phone lines remain in service. When not properly maintained, stray electrical current comes into contact with copper pipes and erodes them.
Some homeowners near 188th Street and 81st Avenue have been forced to repair their pipes multiple times, repairs that can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $12,000, under threat of having their water shut off by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“Too many seniors who are no longer working and have to rely on Social Security, as well as families with children who are struggling to make ends meet, are having financial problems due to the exorbitant costs to repair city pipes that they did not break,” said Linda Gordon, a board member of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association.
The Utility Responsibility Bill would allow DEP to hold private utility companies responsible for any damage they cause to water and sewer lines on private property. The bill still needs to be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo before it becomes law.
“When it does get sent to the governor, I hope he will give it favorable consideration,” said Liu.
Under current law, DEP requires that homeowners repair damaged infrastructure on their property. The only option for a homeowner was to pay for the repairs and then sue Verizon to recoup their money.
“Residents can’t afford the litigation costs to sue deep-pocketed utility companies,” said Assemblyman Ed Braunstein.
Verizon eventually agreed to work with homeowners and reimburse them for repairs, but required they sign a release waiving the company from any future damage, which could occur without maintaining the underground phone lines that caused the issues in the first place.
And the issue isn’t one that only affects homeowners in Fresh Meadows. Assemblyman David Weprin said it is a problem in neighborhoods across the five boroughs.
“This is not just a problem in this part of Queens,” he said. “I know there have been similar cases in Brooklyn, and we had extensive support from our Brooklyn colleagues during the legislative process.”