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Months after nor'easter, Medford residents still flooded

Rich Palacios' basement in Medford is still flooded

Rich Palacios' basement in Medford is still flooded four months after a storm hit. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

FOUR months after a historic nor'easter battered Long Island, residents of a hard-hit south Medford neighborhood say they remain flooded out of their basements - and ignored by their local government.

Residents of about 20 households near the intersection of Southaven and Pennsylvania avenues say their basements are still filled with up to 3 feet of water. The damage has been expensive to fix, they say, has caused some families to suffer from mold-related illnesses and forced residents to run sump pumps 24 hours a day, more than doubling some utility bills to more than $800 per month.

Trudy Lauben, like many residents, says she fears flooding will happen again - or worsen - if another heavy rain strikes, and she wants the town to "do the right thing" and make the area safe.

The residents and Brookhaven Town officials agree about the source of the problem: rain that prompted flooding in an underground stream that runs through the neighborhood on its way to Swan Lake. But they disagree about how the town should respond to the flood.

The residents cite a 1987 agreement between the town and a contractor to build a pipe to divert groundwater out of the neighborhood and into a nearby catch basin. The neighbors, who used public records laws to unearth the nearly quarter-century-old agreement, say Brookhaven remains duty-bound to do the work.

"We're not asking the town to buy our homes or give us money; we just want them to fix the problem and have that water rerouted so it is away from our homes," said Lauben, noting her home has 3 feet of water in the basement.

Brookhaven officials say the agreement was "preliminary" and not a binding contract, said Brian Beedenbender, chief of staff to town Supervisor Mark Lesko. The 1987 agreement would have paid the contractor $120,000, less than a quarter of the cost of the work today, Beedenbender said. He added that the work never took place because residents were opposed to it at the time.

"The town doesn't have the half a million dollars or more to do this right now, and that's at a minimum," Beedenbender said.

Town engineers are reviewing the 1987 agreement to see whether the pipe plan would work in 2010, Beedenbender said. The town is also looking at other fixes to the flooding and state and federal grants to help fund a solution, he said.

"There's nothing to do until we find out what, if anything, we can do," said Councilman Tim Mazzei, who represents the area.

Other neighborhoods in Brookhaven, including parts of Manorville and Mastic Beach, are still dealing with flood damage from March's storms. More than 100 town residents overall have applied to FEMA for aid.

Kelly Palacios, whose family has spent $13,000 repairing its Southaven Avenue home, said the residents there may take Brookhaven to court if the town doesn't offer a solution soon.

For now, Palacios' teenage son, Joseph, is living with her sister in Islandia to get away from the mold in their home.

"The killer is that the Town of Brookhaven knows that all of these homes are in this condition," she said.

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