SOME COMMUNITIES want new parks. Some communities seek
newly paved streets. But the residents of Ramblersville, a little-known South
Queens community that predates nearby Howard Beach, are finding that a new
sewer system is just what the state ordered.
The system is the area's first; the community was founded in the mid-1800s.
Ramblersville, otherwise known as Old Hamilton Beach, is a quaint,
out-of-the-way community at the southern tip of Howard Beach bounded by Kennedy
Airport to the east and Jamaica Bay to the south. Cross Bay Boulevard in
Howard Beach is the area's major means of egress. The tiny community has only
about 60 homes.
Residents, politicians and environmentalists alike agree that the $825,000
sewer project, mandated by state environmental law to minimize pollution of
waterways like Jamaica Bay, was long overdue.
City Councilman Alfonso Stabile (R-Ozone Park), who helped secure more than
$800,000 for the project through the city's capital budget, had warned
residents at a public forum in January to move ahead with the installation of
sewers in Ramblersville or risk possible environmental sanctions such as steep
fines and even evictions. Most of the money was city Department of
Environmental Protection funds allocated for water and sewer improvement
"If we don't meet the state environmental mandate, then people are going to
have problems," Stabile said. "Ramblersville is one of the last communities in
Queens I know of that is still without a sewer system. And that's saying
something because most politicians don't even know where this community is
Some Ramblersville residents had long been discharging their household
waste directly into surrounding waterways-including Jamaica Bay. Other homes
had cesspools, which can fail and allow raw sewage to mix with groundwater. The
groundwater then eventually finds its way into the bay.
environmental group dedicated to the preservation and protection of waterways,
fines for polluters can reach $25,000 per day, and certain pollution offenses
can even bring jail time.
Willner said that runoff from Kennedy Airport, rainwater that mixes with
raw sewage and various fuel spills also can affect fish and water quality in
But, Willner also said that the overall water quality of Jamaica Bay-a
wildlife refuge where waterfowl live year-round-has improved significantly
since the 1960s, when pollution was unacceptably higher.
"The sewer project is a good thing," Willner said. "It means the community
is coming into compliance, and that can only help the bay."
Dan Mundy, president of Jamaica Bay EcoWatchers, a small group of longtime
bay users, agrees. "Less raw pollution will help the ecology of the bay. The
project is a step in the right direction."
Ramblersville homeowners also favor the environmental benefits of the
project, yet many express trepidation regarding the uncertain costs of this
major and somewhat complex project.
Among their chief concerns is the cost to hook up to the main sewer, to be
located at Church Street and 102nd Street. According to Tom Campagna, borough
engineer for the Queens borough president's office, homeowners are individually
responsible for their line into the sewer main.
Campagna said hookup costs to homeowners are usually assessed on a per-foot
basis from the building line to the sewer connection, costing $60 to $80 a
"There's a lot of money at stake," said a Ramblersville resident who
declined to give his name. He estimated that hookup costs could approach
$30,000 per homeowner, a figure that both Stabile and city officials dismissed
as "way off base." Although hookup costs vary with the distance a homeowner is
from the main sewer, city officials put costs closer to $1,000-$3,000.
Other residents expressed concerns that, given the bog-like composition of
Ramblersville's soil, the sewers may not have enough solid foundation to rest
on, thus compromising the project's engineering integrity.
"What if they dig and there's no sand or solid ground below?" asked a
homeowner from Bayview Street who did not want to be named. "Then we're back to
where we started from. This whole project is full of problems. We'll need a
miracle [to get the project completed]."
Cruz Construction, a Holmdel, N.J.-based company, was awarded the contract
to build the main sewer. Work commenced in January and is to be completed by
August, according to documents from the city's Department of Design and
Construction. However, Campagna estimates that the sewer won't be ready for
connection for another four to five months. Cruz refused to comment on the
project. However, Campagna said the company has told him that the project
should be fairly straightforward and that the company does not anticipate any
problems with soil conditions.
Further complicating the project are the easements, or legal agreements,
between neighbors that may be required to hook up everyone to the main sewer,
due to the proximity of the houses in Ramblersville. Some residents might need
access to their neighbor's property for the sewer hookup.
Stabile promised homeowners in January that he would provide an attorney to
help obtain easements. He also said he would look into low-interest or
interest-free loans to help people pay for the sewer connections.
"We're not looking to put a financial burden on anyone," Stabile said.
However, the councilman said recently that most people won't require
financial help because the project will get "much closer to many homes than
originally thought," thereby eliminating the need for most loans and easements.
Alex Lutz, chief of staff to Stabile, called Ramblersville a "jigsaw
puzzle" of commingled private- and city-owned property that makes
infrastructure improvements-like the sewer project-that much more difficult.
The city can't legally build on private property, which poses additional
problems when trying to extend sewer service to homes isolated by private
tracts of land.
"What we'll have to do is go to the end of the city-owned land and try to
connect those homes from there," Campagna said. "Our intention is to get as
many people connected to the system for as little money as possible."
Catherine Doxsey, president of the Ramblersville-Hawtree Civic Association,
said she was relieved that the project is finally getting done.
"I thank God for this project," Doxsey said. "We've been standing still for
90 years. We don't have a choice. Our homes are at stake."
Active in the Ramblersville community for more than three decades, Doxsey
said she enjoys the area's natural beauty that allows her to feed ducks in her
backyard. "I believe that the environment has to come first. When we're long
gone, the environment will still be here.
"Everyone needs to clean up their act."