Monday, November 19, 2012

Massive Sink Holes Found in Rockaway

Background: I am a construction management expert witness on projects up to $100M and have held the title of and/or worked in the capacity of engineer for over 8 years as well. I went to the 1999 Turkey and the 2010 Haiti earthquakes by myself to help out and had great success. About 6 months ago, I joined the Team Rubicon volunteer group. I flew in to NY from Phoenix on the 8th to join the team at Rockaway.

On 11/11/12 working with Team Rubicon (TR) I found water seeping through the basement wall of a house near Beach 68th St & Bayfield in Rockaway, NY. I then went outside and found an in-line series of obvious sink holes in his back yard. Alarmed, I continued looking into the issue going door to door in that same line in search of identifying the source and/or scale of the danger. I found another sink hole, then another, etc. all of which were in a nearly perfect straight line. I then tracked these holes to the intersection of Beach 67th St & Almeda, 750 feet away. Looking at the pavement I could see that the street’s asphalt was nice and smooth and rather new going up the hill to the west but was very badly deformed throughout the intersection (not buckled, but sunken in spots). I spoke to a neighbor child who told me that the intersection that he rode his bike on every day was NOT like that prior to Sandy. It appears to me that the asphalt on this entire intersection may very possibly be deformed due to soil erosion beneath and could lead to vehicles crashing into a sink hole.

As I was finding more and more evidence and sending photos and my findings in to Headquarters (HQ), I was pulled off of this task that I had gotten myself emotionally involved in by my team as they wanted me to continue the original mission.

I told everyone in TR that I could get my hands on from noon on 11/11 to noon on 11/12 that this could be a huge clear and present danger to the people of this neighborhood (especially the kids playing in their back yards) and to vehicles driving through that intersection and nearly begging my team to put a crew or at the least ME on the issue to get the city working on it and to warn the neighbors of the immediate dangers. I explained that I believed that a city water main might be causing the erosion which seemed to be the most logical cause due to the perfectly in-line nature of the sink holes.

Around 1:00 on 11/12 I arrived back on site after being sent out by my team on a solo mission. I traced the sink holes back to the bay to the north and then took photos and documented each hole location, etc. I interviewed more neighbors, told them what I had found and to keep their kids from playing in the back yards. As I was searching for the end of the sink holes towards the south, I spotted a city water crew working in a pit just before the Beach 67th St and Thursby intersection on the east side of the street. I asked a worker what the problem was and he told me that they were fixing a city water main break! I told him about the sink holes that were perfectly in line with their line break. He told me not to worry and that it couldn’t possibly be related. I asked him “so if you draw a straight line from your water main break to the bay and see that it passes directly under the 10+ sink holes and the house with the water pouring into his basement (and I later found, water squirting from the ground near a fire hydrant and also under 3 homes that reported spraying sewage from their toilets and drains which sounds like a liquefaction scenario to me), that it is not possibly related?” He said no and walked away…

I flagged down a car full of NYPD who thankfully were willing to look at the issue that I was passionately describing. I walked the 6 or 7 officers through the entire series of sink holes, showed them the water leaching into that basement and explained how the only reasonable conclusion as to the probable cause of this was a city water main break. Walking this with the officers, they found an additional hole and this one was the biggest and scariest yet! It had about a 3’ diameter opening, a 3’ cave ceiling inside, then about 18” air pocket (cave) and then a 2’ deep pool of water and this huge sink hole is very close to the foundation of a home with children! Officer Patrick Wang put on rubber gloves and dipped his finger into the water coming into the basement and explained that he believed it to be fresh water and how that further points toward a water main break and an escalating danger even to the homes on this block collapsing into these holes!

They called city engineers and requested an immediate investigation. They told one neighbor that asked what was going on that this appears to be a water main break and resulting sink holes and not to let her kids play in the back yards. Feeling like a CSI investigator working with the NYPD (a childhood fantasy), I asked the officers for a photo. The 8 year old boy that lives in the home with one of the 10’ deep sink holes, Alfonso, took a photo with me and 5 officers. It seemed like a complete success and that I could now relax.

Then without notifying each resident on the block or closing the Almeda intersection, they left at around 4:30pm. Frustrated, I went door to door for the next few hours notifying residents and looking for further evidence as to the origin of the problems.

I stayed there into the night (an absolute TR no, no due to safety concerns) expecting someone to come to at least put up caution tape around each opening (even though the sink holes could be much larger under the surface and at least one I found was a hole not visible as it had the grass and roots covering the hole much like a bear trap) but no one came. I stayed in the neighborhood until 1:30am the next day and then started walking to get myself back to the TR Brooklyn base.

On 11/14 my TR friend Jose was able to convince the TR leadership to let the 2 of us go out to put up caution tape as well as for him to take good photos of each hole. At Jose’s suggestion, we found a 10’6” long pole and probed each hole to somewhat accurately measure and illustrate in photos the depth / extent of each hole. To our amazement, some holes were just over 10’ deep!

Frustrated that NO ONE but me and now Jose are doing Anything about the danger, another TR member, Louis suggested that he might have contacts that could get this story in front of the mayor and that if I call 311 and establish a service request claim, they could run with it. I called. The claim number is C1-1-801591567 submitted at 3:38pm on 11/14 to the DOT.

Please help me to get this story out BEFORE someone gets hurt or dies! Ironically the photo that Alfonso took illustrates how no one seems to care that this 4’6” boy clearly fits into the 10’ deep holes!

Update: 11/19, 9am - I just got off the phone with a couple of the residents on this block and they tell me that NO ONE has been there yet and that the water is still flowing (theoretically worsening the subsurface erosion issue which caused the 12 visible sinkholes).

Thank you!

Steve Major


Suzannah B. Troy artist said...

Hey Mike Bloomberg loves busting thru zoning where ever there are sink holes near by!!! Put a sky piercing condo there!

Anonymous said...

Aliens with saucers.. of absynthe

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Mayans were correct ? Frankenstorms, holes explosions on the sun. Perhaps the end is near.

This engineer is correct however the city doesn't care about Rockaway (Its Queens)
Nothings going to happen until somebody gets killed or those people bond together and surround the mayors condo or city hall with megaphones & pitchforks.

Forget the mainstream News. No major news-media in NYC dare run this story, embarrass the mayor and risk getting their press credentials, tripod permits and access pulled.
The mayors office and press secretary control all of that stuff !
-fact !

Anonymous said...

Welcome to NYC, where most don't give a flying fuck.
You are a good man, Steve. Don't let the vermin in this city discourage you.

Anonymous said...

How is it that a guy from Arizona cares more about the streets in Far Rockaway than the NYC Transportation Commissioner?

Anonymous said...

Only if a little blonde girl gets trapped in one will it then get more media attention than you could possibly imagine.

Anonymous said...

I know from calling in sink holes on the street in the past to the city that under normal conditions they take sometimes a month plus to take care of the issue and fix the problem. Given the current conditions in the rockaways it will take months for them to get around to it. There isn't enough employees to deal with problems on a normal day let alone a disaster like this.

Queens Crapper said...

Glad this is getting some media attention:

Sinkhole cluster in Rockaways

Anonymous said...

Figures the Daily News tossed every single word of the engineers horror story of damaging detailed negligence and technical FACTS.
What the Daily News went with on follow up is a standard public relations "phone call crock" issued by the same goons that are part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

Will everyone please stop complaining about the hurricane? Geez people, it was like, you know, a month ago already. Downtown is open, the tunnels are open and there is gas now. The politicians had their photo ops and have moved on. Bloomberg is satisfied. God, when will you people stop complaining about a little bitty wind and rain. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Anon. No. 10: Nice try.

Anonymous said...

Anon. No. 11,

I believe Anon. No. 10 was being sarcastic or maybe you were as well?

Anonymous said...

Maybe a few of our crooked pols might fall in and disappear.Now, wouldn't that be nice?

Gotta find a big deep one for "granny" Shulman and one that goes all the way down to China for Ackerman and Nussbaum.

Old Nick said...

Sinkholes are just the Devils way of claiming his own.
Are you prepared Michael R. Bloomberg?
I await you down below. I want you to cook my books. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Call your councilman's office. Call the borough president's office.

See what happens when everyone is polite?

You get crapped on.

Unknown said...

To not misrepresent myself, I'm not a licensed (or even degreed) engineer. I have however held the title of aerospace mfg eng for 3 yrs, worked in the capacity of civil eng for 8 yrs and given expert witness testimony against opposing counsel's civil eng experts as well. It's more accurate to call me a const. mgmt consultant. :D

Anon No. 10 said...

Anon No. 12:

Considering what some of the people were posting around here before the storm hit, I'm not sure if Anon No. 10 was being sarcastic or not.

Queens Crapper said...

Thank God we have people like you, Steve, looking out for us because our own government doesn't give a damn.

Anonymous said...

Considering what some of the people were posting around here before the storm hit, I'm not sure if Anon No. 10 was being sarcastic or not.
It was sarcasm.

Anonymous said...

Just read this for the first time and wondering whatever came of this situation?

Unknown said...

Just an update. No updates. The residents were all told they were the unrelated sinkholes that coincidentally are all in one 1/4 mi long line, that appear to be related to city water mains and/or a historic city drainage canal are actually all their problems to deal with individually. Repairs, filling in the caves under their homes, supporting the foundations that were undermined by the voids beneath their homes, preventing future flood events from causing more or larger sinkholes, etc. all cost a lot of money.

My plan / dream is to create a fund (perhaps $50k) to hire independent geotechnical engineers to perform sub-surface ultrasounds and excavate and identify the cause, documenting the whole process preparing for a lawsuit. Then when the city is forced to be responsible for their own infrastructure and damages caused by it / their negligence and then assuming a settlement, the costs of those donated engineering fees recovered in the process against the city will be donated back to that neighborhood in the form of improved or new neighborhood park or something similar of their choosing.

I'm working to launch a disaster based home renovations style reality TV show focused on the volunteer experience designed to be a tool of, by, and for the people that will raise funds to be donated to advocacy issues like these called The Real Volunteers (TRV). As the show's creator, I'm donating 100% back which itself could be the source of funding for such future advocacy projects. The show and it's cameras will be there to shine a light on such abuses as well. @TRVshow

Thank you so much for your help/support on this fight Queens Crapper!! Thank you for all of the Anonymous support too!

Anyone desiring / able to help, please step up. These residents need it... The city will keep doing this to people until We stop them.

Steve Major