‘I Tried To Warn Them:’ Bronx Residents Claim Parks Dept. Caused Sewage Spill

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Bronx residents are baffled and furious at a city plan to plant a tree outside their home.

They say it caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage, and it all could have been avoided. CBS2’s Ali Bauman investigated how the parks department made such a huge mistake.

Abiezer Moto knows quite a bit about where he lives. So when a Department of Parks & Recreation truck pulled up in early May and workers started marking the sidewalk to plant a tree, he had to do something.

“I tried to stop them, because I knew there was a sewer line going through there,” he told Bauman.

He called 311 and submitted request after request, trying to prove to the parks department it was about to dig up a sewage pipe.

“The complaint was: Look, this is going to be a waste of taxpayer money, and if something happens, who’s going to pay for it?” Moto said.

On May 12, the department sent him a response, assuring its “thorough survey process” determined “this location is appropriate for planting a tree.” A week later, crews started to dig. Within hours, a little sinkhole formed above the pipe and grew.

Then, Moto’s downstairs neighbor woke up to a flood.

“It went here… Half of my bedroom, the rug saturated completely, and half my kitchen,” Toni Zervo said of the inch-high water.

With no time to waste, their landlord hired a contractor to fix the busted pipe. When workers broke the sewer line, mud flooded through the pipe. So to fix it, the homeowner had to replace the entire pipe. That bill cost $20,000.

“These poor people have to go from one bureaucratic abyss to another, because now they have to file a claim with the comptroller’s office,” City Councilman James Vacca explained. “There’s no guarantee the residents will get the entire $20,000. There’s no guarantee they’ll get anything.”

Despite several attempts to interview someone from the parks department on camera, the agency refused.

“They really just don’t care,” Zervo said.

The sidewalk is patched and the city emailed CBS2, saying it’s giving up on planting a tree.

Now, the tenants and their landlord are still stuck in the city’s pipeline.

The parks department also told CBS2 that sewer lines are usually deeper than they excavate for tree planting, which is why it was never marked.

More From CBS New York

CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
Get Our Morning Briefs
Bloomberg WCBS Tri-State Business Index

Watch & Listen LIVE