EXCLUSIVE: Water main break floods Mackay Place home, closes Xaverian

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) seems to have dropped the ball on yet another water main break in the neighborhood – one that, this time, not only inconvenienced residents but also paralyzed an entire portion of the community.

According to Mackay Place resident Diana Madden Carroll, the trouble — which included adjacent road closures and the closure today of Xaverian High School — began Saturday morning, January 13.

“I was in New Hampshire on vacation and I got a call from my neighbor saying that water was gushing out of our back door,” said Madden Carroll, whose home sits between Narrows Avenue and Shore Road, adjacent to Xaverian.

A property manager by profession, Madden Carroll’s first move was to phone a plumber while she rushed home from the White Mountains. “Upon inspection, they told us it was a city water main and to call 311 immediately.”

And so, Madden Carroll, her father, John and her neighbor, Michael Davis, all picked up their phones.

“First, a DEP inspector came to the house and issued my father a three-day notice,” she told this paper. “He said it didn’t look like anything on their end and said that it was our responsibility.”

Meanwhile, the water – flowing by the gallons – kept coming.

To Band-Aid the break, at least in her home, Madden Carroll acquired a pump and began siphoning the water into her backyard. In the meantime, another DEP inspector had come and gone, claiming a job on Staten Island had precedence, and promising a follow-up from a second team which Madden Carroll said never came.

“It’s Saturday night now and I’m begging, pleading with 311 to get DEP back here,” the resident said. “They kept saying, ‘We can’t call them’ and ‘We can’t contact any of the agencies directly, it’s just a ticket.’”

Finally, on Sunday, another inspector showed. “We got them into all the neighboring houses, they sent a crew and we thought, ‘Okay, this is finally going to happen, but [a repair crew] didn’t come until after midnight Sunday into Monday,” Madden Carroll said.

It was then that, while she and her husband, James – who had been sleeping in their living room so to not miss a beat – dozed off, DEP packed up and left without so much as a fix or a farewell. “All of a sudden, they were gone,” she said, “the water still gushing through my basement.”

Her neighbor, however, had caught them leaving and told Madden Carroll that they’d claimed they needed special equipment and that they’d “be back.”

“I was beside myself,” she recounted, adding that, first thing Monday morning, she took it a step further and called her new councilmember. “I left a message for Justin [Brannan] and the next thing I knew, not 15, 20 minutes later, he reached out first to me and then to DEP on our behalf.”

And he made sure they stayed, Madden Carroll said.

“He got them here again to start looking and when they left again saying they couldn’t find it, he called the DEP and made sure they came back and that they did not leave until it was taken care of.”

By 7 p.m. Monday evening – almost three whole days after the floodgates opened in Madden Carroll’s basement – the main was finally shut off, at which time DEP officials promised a fix by morning.

Nevertheless, Xaverian High School was closed Tuesday morning due to construction, as was Madden Carroll’s block to vehicular traffic for most of the ordeal, which was only muddied by what crews discovered overnight Monday into Tuesday – the water main’s close proximity to a National Grid gas line.

“Why would the city set up a gas line so close to a water pipe?” the resident asked. “What if something blew up? There’s a school across the street that services tons and tons of children from our neighborhood. What would have happened to them?”

When asked to comment on the debacle, a DEP spokesperson told this paper, “Once National Grid shut off the gas main to the building, we were able to complete repairs and have restored water to all consumers. Our community affairs liaison has already met with the resident and provided her with information on how to submit a reimbursement claim form.”

That much is true, Madden Carroll said, though it doesn’t make up for the chaos.

“Mario Bruno, the assistant commissioner of Intergovernmental Affairs at the DEP, came to me with claim forms,” she told this paper. “He said it’s the city’s fault and to make sure that I stay in contact with him and my councilman.”

That is important as her family’s insurance doesn’t cover the break.

To make matters worse, Diana’s 88-year-old father, John, who prior to the break resided with the family, has since been forced to relocate to Diana’s brother’s home on Staten Island, leaving him a bridge away from where he receives dialysis three times a week.

“My husband and I are afraid to go to sleep,” she said. “What if this isn’t the problem? We want to make sure that, even if they fix the break, that water isn’t going to come through our home again.”

To boot, Madden Carroll – a Ridgeite for almost 50 years – feels for her neighbors who have also had to endure the fallout from the break. “We feel terrible because all of this water has been running under the foundation of the other houses on this block and into the streets,” she said. “We’re all concerned. If we didn’t know what to do with this leak, who knows what could’ve happened? This is how cars get swallowed up on the street by sinkholes.”

Though the real problem, both Madden Carroll and Brannan agree, lays in the way the city handles its complaints.

“I’m thankful to the workers who came out in the cold to fix this problem but it’s a problem that may have been prevented had calls to 311 from homeowners been heeded,” Brannan told this paper. “Whether 311 isn’t informing DEP in a timely manner or DEP isn’t processing the complaints, we need to act on these warning signs before something like this water main break happens again.”

“The DEP is failing us but even more so, the 311 system is failing us,” Madden Carroll added. “When [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg was in office, it was working fairly well. I don’t know what’s happened since but I don’t see us becoming a better city.”

Still, the Ridgeite said, she had her heroes.

“Justin Brannan is my lifeline right now,” she told this paper. “If it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t have come back here at all. Water would still be coming out of my basement. And thank God for my neighbors. They’ve been wonderful.”

As of publication and after an interagency meeting with DEP, National Grid, Con Edison and the Department of Emergency Management, National Grid had shut off the gas main to allow DEP access to the water main break. DEP has since completed repairs and restored water to all affected. They will remain on scene with National Grid to complete road restoration.

The situation will continued to be monitored by both the City Council and the involved agencies.

Xaverian is poised to reopen Wednesday, January 17.

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