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Greenpoint block near NYC Ferry stop turns into obstacle course after heavy rain

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“It’s like I need a ferry to cross the street to get to the real ferry”

India Street becomes inundated with water after heavy rains in Greenpoint.
Courtesy of Lindsey Stephens

Heavy rains are flooding a Greenpoint street that is the only link to the neighborhood’s NYC Ferry landing, turning the sidewalk into a flooded obstacle course and forcing ferry service to bypass the stop after a deluge, according to commuters and local pols.

The submerged street has been a problem for years, but has turned into a major issue now that India Street off of West Street serves as the only access to the neighborhood’s NYC Ferry stop. Complicating matters, half of the street is under construction and mostly inaccessible due to Mack Development’s 40-story tower at 21 India Street.

One Greenpoint resident, who has complained to 311 about the issue for more than a year, says the flooding is sometimes so deep that he has seen commuters whip out knives to cut the zip ties off of construction barriers or scale fences so that they can cross without descending into flood waters.

“It’s ridiculously deep sometimes. It’s sort of comical. I think the last flood was a foot at the deepest,” said Jonathan Vanasco, a media consultant who lives near the ferry stop. “My wife and I are young enough that we can scale fences or jump barriers, but there are a lot of people who can’t and they kind of just stare blankly at the water and resign themselves to ruining a pair of shoes or waiting and hopefully it’ll drain in 30 or 40 minutes.”

Vanasco said city agencies played hot potato with the issue and sent him on a municipal merry-go-round for months. After heavy rains, some riders have had little choice but to hopscotch across a makeshift walkway of barriers—kind of like lily pads on a pond, but less scenic and more depressing, said another NYC Ferry commuter.

“I tried getting across that way once but my feet ended up totally submerged in grimy street water,” said Nicole Price, a computer scientist who regularly commutes from Greenpoint to lower Manhattan for work. “I bought a pair of high rain boots just because of this. It’s a ridiculous situation. It’s like I need a ferry to cross the street to get to the real ferry.”

India Street in Greenpoint when it is not flooded.
Caroline Spivack/Curbed NY

Outraged pols, including Greenpoint’s City Council member Stephen Levin and Assembly member Joe Lentol decried the condition as a danger to locals and called on the city to step in to develop a swift solution.

“The flooding at India Street is a danger to pedestrians seeking safe access to the New York City Ferry and businesses operating in the area,” said Lentol in a statement. “A resolution must be expeditiously found so that pedestrians and businesses are no longer subjected to these dangerous flood conditions.”

The problem stems from a lack of stormwater sewers on the dead-end block that was once used for industrial purposes. Water after heavy rains there historically drained directly into the East River, but recent development on the block has altered the drainage pattern, according to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The agency is investigating the cause.

“The City is exploring both short, and long-term, solutions to improve drainage on this block,” said Edward Timbers, a spokesperson for DEP.

In fact, the block does have two manholes on the street that once diverted water into the river, but they’re actually illegal and “were put in by unknown parties at unknown points in the past,” according to Benjamin Solotaire, a community organizer with councilmember Levin’s office.

As a temporary solution, the developer behind 21 India Street has offered to install an elevated walkway connecting the current dead end of the northern sidewalk directly to the ferry landing on the south side of the street, according to a spokesperson on behalf of the project.

“This work could be completed within days presuming cooperation and support of local officials, and would be performed at our cost,” said a spokesperson for The Greenpoint, the condo at 21 India Street. “We believe this would provide a clear path for commuters and demonstrate our commitment to the good of the local community.”

Levin’s office is in talks with the Department of Transportation to expedite the permitting process for such a connection, says Solotaire. The Greenpoint says it did put forward a potential sewer infrastructure solution to the issue in the past, but that it was not approved by the city, according to the developer and Levin’s office. Regardless, the long term fix will likely take years with the construction of new sewers, but local officials are working to ensure there will be a reliable alternative in the meantime.

“We want to make sure everyone can safely make it to the ferry landing without having to wear galoshes,” said Solotaire.