The Hempstead Housing Authority has taken legal action against Nassau County and Garden City to recover $500,000 in flood damages, alleging the county and village were negligent in failing to fix a creek that overflowed during Tropical Storm Irene.
Housing authority officials filed a notice of claim in November alleging that the county and Garden City have refused to address recurring flooding issues caused by the creek behind the authority's building on Clinton Street.
County officials have acknowledged owning the creek but say the drainage system behind Clinton Street is multi-jurisdictional because the villages of Hempstead and Garden City contribute to the runoff. County officials also have acknowledged "the drain is not physically capable of handling significant storm events."
"We had to put the county on notice and everyone else that contributes to the water that something has to be done," Hempstead housing agency chairman Cornell Bozier said Wednesday. "The county was fully aware of the problem. It has been going on for 15 years."
Nassau County attorney John Ciampoli said "the principal of governmental immunity" applies in this case. "The county is not responsible for acts of God," he said. "This is the County of Nassau, we are not an insurance company. That is what they are trying to turn us into."
Garden City Administrator Robert Schoelle declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The parking lot and first floor of the four-story 143-unit building are below sea level. The building primarily houses senior citizens and disabled tenants, Bozier said.
The flooding damaged the building and property inside, including cars, computers, telephones, furniture, fixtures, appliances and personal belongings, documents show. The authority's insurance company did not fully cover the damages, Bozier said.
"We cannot stand that devastation again," Bozier said. "The insurance company will probably not pay anything at all in the future if it happens again because the flooding is a pre-existing problem."
About 15 to 20 residents' cars were flooded following the storm, despite the authority putting up "park at your own risk" signs, Bozier said. Most of the tenants only had liability insurance for their cars and turned to the authority for restitution, but its insurance company denied the claims, he said.
"We are doing this because we want to show our tenants that we want to do something to alleviate this constant flooding," Bozier said.
Authority attorney Jonathan L. Scher of Carle Place said a deposition hearing is scheduled for April 20.
"We hope they will do the right thing and provide reimbursement for damages," Scher said.