Residents use community forum to air frustrations over flood issues

A crowd of over 200 South Cheektowaga residents attend a community forum on August 27th, hosted by the town at South Line Fire Company. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
A crowd of over 200 South Cheektowaga residents attend a community forum on August 27th, hosted by the town at South Line Fire Company. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

CHEEKTOWAGA – Over 200 South Cheektowaga residents packed South Line Fire Company’s meeting hall on French Road Monday night to air their frustration over a recent flood.

The community forum was hosted by the town after a flash flood overtook several streets in the neighborhood on August 17th.  Streets and homes were flooded when four inches of rain fell within an hour’s time.

The resident’s common theme throughout the room was simple.  We’re frustrated, we pay a lot of taxes, and we can’t afford to keep remodeling our basements after it floods.

Supervisor Diane Benczkowski, town council members, and representatives from the Highway Department, Engineering Department, Code Enforcement, Plumbing Department, and Erie County Sewer District 1 faced the frustrated crowd.

Christie Weber of W. Rouen Drive addresses county and town officials during a community forum on August 27th at South Line Fire Company. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Christie Weber of W. Rouen Drive addresses county and town officials during a community forum on August 27th at South Line Fire Company. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

“This isn’t the first time since I’ve been there, like the gentleman said, this is my sixth or seventh time.  My basement flooded once, and it cost me twenty grand.  Insurance covered $15,000, and I had to come up with the other $5,000,” said Leonard Oleksy of Dubonnet Drive.  “It’s time, after time, after time.  We get no help, but yet you want to bust my balls if there is a little crack in the concrete on my sidewalk.  [Loud applause]  We’re all about doing our part, we’re all about our town.  We love our town; we love our homes. We want some help; we want some support!”

Christie Weber of W. Rouen Drive said she came home to six to eight inches of dirty water in her basement.

“My house smells, and I don’t have the money to fix it.  We need some sort of action here; this isn’t fair,” Ms. Weber said.  “I feel really bad for everyone in this room who’s been dealing with this for 30, 40, 50-years because it’s only been one year for me and I feel like I made a very big mistake moving to South Cheektowaga.”

Sharon Pastwick of W. Rouen Drive said her street was under water so even if her sump pump was working, the water had no place to go.

Supervisor Diane Benczkowski takes notes during a community forum on August 27th at South Line Fire Company. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Supervisor Diane Benczkowski takes notes during a community forum on August 27th at South Line Fire Company. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

“I was lucky enough that I didn’t get as much water this time because the last time when I was on vacation, I had water all the way up to my garage door windows.  I lost everything downstairs, and now I get nervous because my kids will ask me to go on vacation and I’m afraid to leave my house.  If I hear that rain is coming I know I’m going to be flooded,” said Ms. Pastwick.

County and town leaders are now trying to figure out if a single event or a confluence of events caused the flood that forced so many people to toss their children’s toys, photos, and great grandma’s Christmas ornaments to the curb for trash pickup.

“There was a big storm event and then a multitude of factors that could be in play here,” said Joseph Fiegl, Deputy Commissioner at Erie County Division of Sewerage Management.  “It could be drainage issues; it could be storm sewer issues, it could be sanitary sewer issues, so, getting this information to determine what the cause of the flooding in the particular instances is the important factor here.”

The sanitary sewer system in that part of town is the responsibility of Erie County while the storm system falls to the town. 

Mr. Fiegl says Erie County has combed their complaint database for the last few years and is continuing to gather information to try and figure out what happened.

“That’s the type of information that we’re going to take away from here to try and determine if we have a history here or if this is a one-off because some people say they’ve had problems forever and you also had some people who said this was the first time it happened,”  added Mr. Fiegl.

“Everybody had a unique situation, and there isn’t an answer I could tell you that would fit for everybody,” said Ms. Benczkowski.  “I’m glad that we did this because these are issues that I did not know about or were really this intense.  It is frustrating, I feel really bad that all those people lost everything and then some, over and over again because this problem was occurring.  I understand that they are frustrated with the “town” but I have to look back into the records to see why that was even approved and then maybe we can figure out how to fix it.  It just might take a while to fix.”

She says the town is looking at the possibility of hiring additional inspectors and capital project money could be shifted around next year to help remedy any issues found by the engineers.

Mr. Fiegl says the county is going to investigate further to find out what the common denominator is – street flooding from the town’s storm sewer or backups into the home because of their sanitary system.

“We want to meet and get into the homes of these folks to try and understand exactly what happened under those particular circumstances,” added Mr. Fiegl.

“We want to listen,” Erie County Legislator John Bruso said.  “We want to make sure that the people that I represent are taken care of and if there is a fix, we can get it to them.”

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