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Impact of LI's recent storms far from over

It might be hot and dry for now, but problems caused by recent heavy rains are far from over.

After last month's record rainfall, and more from last week's nor'easter, Nassau and Suffolk residents have to cope with both short-term and long-term impacts.


Foster Rignola, owner of Rignola Cesspool Service in East Hampton, hasn't had a busier month in the dozen years his firm has existed. And he's not alone - eight septic companies said this week they're swamped by demand for their services.

"It's a major problem," Rignola said of the higher water table responsible for septic system backups across Suffolk. "I've never seen the groundwater this high."

Septic systems overflow when the groundwater rises, pushing into cesspools and leaching pits, causing wastewater and sewage to flow back into a house.

James Wholey of AAA Cesspool & Rooter Service of Smithtown said he's pumped 2,000 to 3,000 gallons from some residential systems this week, only to watch groundwater rise again and refill the tanks in 45 minutes.

Warning signs of an overwhelmed system are slow drainage or backup of sinks, tubs and toilets, as well as odors.

In Suffolk, abnormally high groundwater has affected parts of Riverhead, Mastic Beach, Oakdale, Bayport, Blue Point, Smithtown, Central Islip and some stretches of the North Fork, contractors said.

Almost 76 percent of homes in Suffolk have septic systems, according to most recently available data. In Nassau, it's less than 10 percent.

Andrew Andriola, of Andriola's Cesspool in Holbrook, said even though spring normally is busy, this was a "once-in-a-blue-moon shot." He said business for septic tank pumping was 20 percent higher than normal, about the same increase others said they are experiencing.

In some cases, pumping can give homeowners limited use of their household wastewater system.

"You might get it pumped to where they can use the bathrooms, take quick showers and stuff," Wholey said. "You tell them to use as little water as possible. But otherwise there's nothing that can be done. It's just wait for the groundwater to drop."



With hundreds of calls to town governments from residents with flooded basements, companies that pump them dry are more in demand this month than tax accountants.

"It's a two-week backlog," Hugo D'Esposito of AM Shield Waterproofing in Albertson said of how long it would take his firm to respond to a call for service.

In Babylon, spokesman Tim Ruggeri said the town has gotten hundreds of calls and is still getting a handful each day, mostly from people with flooded basements.

Ken Weeks, Islip chief building inspector, said his town has fielded about 75 calls from residents about flooding or soaked basements. Brookhaven officials tallied 55 homes with flooding/storm damage and 20 listed with erosion problems.

Typically, those callers are told to contact a private storm recovery firm.

Even a pumped-out basement can have lingering problems with mold, mildew and musty odor that won't dissipate. Mildew and mold can get a foothold after only 48 hours, D'Esposito said. Air-quality testing can tell a homeowner what type of mold may be present.

Because of the backlog of calls to flood restoration firms, homeowners should be prepared to address the problems themselves before professionals can do an inspection, said Ed Mihelic of E & M Waterproofing in Bay Shore. "If you let 10 inches of water sit in your basement for three weeks, it's going to become an issue," he said.

Mihelic advised residents who have pumped out their basements to ensure good air circulation. Soaked drywall or paneling might require cutting away waterlogged materials, he added.

Bob Ferrari of Huntington said a high water table has meant periodic flooding for his basement since early March - he's been pumping out his basement every two hours since last week's big storm.

Ferrari said he can see mold spreading. He's been attacking it with disinfectant while searching for someone to remove the mold he can't see. "I'm going to have somebody come out and cut out two or three feet of the basement because of the mold. I know it's down there."



County officials are concerned that unless it gets dry and warm, and stays that way for several weeks, the Island could be abuzz with a bad mosquito season, courtesy of standing water that's still widespread on the Island.

"It's too early to tell what the mosquito season is going to be like this year because we don't start the sampling until the end of the month," said Carrie Gallagher, Suffolk County environment and energy commissioner.

The counties advise residents to drain standing water from pool covers, flowerpots or other receptacles. If they begin to see a lot of mosquitoes, they should call the Suffolk hotline at 631-852-4270 or 516-572-1166 in Nassau.



The state Department of Environmental Conservation warns the heavy rains followed by sun and warm weather may bring an increase in a biotoxin that makes shellfish poisonous to humans.

Bill Hastback, head of the DEC shellfish growing area classification program, said nutrients carried into water bodies by stormwater runoff this time of year could boost the population of a marine dinoflagellate, called Alexandrium Fundyense, that produces the biotoxin.

The organism was discovered in the Huntington-Northport area in 2006 and caused shellfish bed closings that spring and in 2008 and 2009. By early June, the water warms sufficiently so the organism returns to the sediment and is no longer a danger.


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