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Watchdog: Driveway, sidewalk repairs prove breaking up is hard to do

Frank DeRosa, and Lexie, with their new sidewalk

Frank DeRosa, and Lexie, with their new sidewalk and driveway apron, seen here on Aug. 19, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Judy Cartwright

A gas leak in February got quick action from National Grid, work that required busting up the concrete driveway apron and sidewalk at Frank DeRosa's Farmingdale home.

The repairs left a hole that was filled and covered with blacktop, a temporary measure that was repeated when the surface sank. DeRosa said he was told concrete would replace the blacktop when warm weather arrived, and in March the sidewalk slabs and apron were marked out for replacement.

In July, the asphalt still in place, he called Watchdog. The work had entered a seeming zone of no return -- or at least a delay until next year's paving season.

"The [NatGrid] person I just spoke with said 'I see documentation on the computer' but said the allotted period for repairs has been passed," he said. "Now it's summertime. The bottom line is they made the repair they needed to make after I smelled a gas leak in February. Now we're in July."

NatGrid contacted DeRosa soon after we notified the company of the driveway plight. "Since it was such a cold winter and a wet spring, some of these jobs have been backed up," spokeswoman Wendy Ladd told us in an email. NatGrid strives for good customer service, she said, "and this matter will be taken care of."

Within days the repair was made. But the work wasn't finished.

Subsequent visits became necessary: First, to provide access to a water valve that wound up sealed under the concrete. Next, to remove the gas valve box, the source of the original leak, because documentation about its status couldn't be found. That work required pouring another new driveway apron; when the concrete was poured, the water valve was once again paved over.

Another visit uncovered it. But access to the valve, necessary when water needs to be shut off, was obstructed because concrete became embedded in the sleeve leading it, DeRosa said.

A few days later, in mid-September, the concrete was chiseled away, he told us.

The first time we spoke in the summer, DeRosa described the needed repair work as "pretty cut and dried." It turned out to be anything but.


When does a sidewalk with an uneven surface require repair? These days, it can be for as little as a quarter-inch.

The question came from James and Pam Hessler of Massapequa. An inspector for Oyster Bay Town had stopped by to tell them a part of the sidewalk in front of their home needed to be replaced.

They were hard pressed to understand why: The lift was much smaller than in other sections nearby, including along the neighborhood park.

They were especially puzzled when the town told them their sidewalk needed work precisely because the lift was so small: It could escape notice and cause someone to trip.

The Hesslers said the slight elevation hadn't presented an obstacle to their son, who relies on a power wheelchair.

"All we're looking for is a fair shake," James Hessler said.

Oyster Bay is one of several Long Island towns that require homeowners to pay for such sidewalk repairs. The couple were told that the town would do the work for $350, which would include removing trees along the curb.

When the town set a deadline, they contacted Watchdog.

The town had received a complaint about the sidewalk, town spokeswoman Marta Kane said, and once that happens repairs become necessary -- even if other locations appear worse.

"Sometimes they can appear to be too small to be easily discernible but high enough to present a hazard," she said. Inspections are done on a case-by-case basis, she said, so "if we get a call about a specific location, we go there."

Through case law, she said, an elevation as small as a quarter-inch is now "the standard definition of a tripping condition."

Town Highway Commissioner Kevin Hanifan met with the Hesslers, Kane said, "and everything was worked out."

Pam Hessler said she and her husband considered the outcome fair: They agreed to replace sidewalk sections as long as a neighboring section also is repaired. It rises so high that her son must maneuver around it, into the street.

The town will arrange to make that repair, Kane said.

The Hesslers decided to hire a private contractor for the work and the town agreed to let the trees remain, Pam Hessler said.

As for the buckled sidewalk along the nearby park: It was already replaced by the time our inquiry reached the highway commissioner.

It had been scheduled to be completed in time for the fall baseball season.

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