Something smells rotten on W. 238th — OK, it’s sewage


An expanding stream of vileness slithering down a hilly street toward Bailey Avenue had disgusted denizens of Kingsbridge Heights for months.

Rancid liquid from what the city’s environmental protection department has attributed to a city sewer leak had streamed down West 238th Street toward Bailey for some time, said Margaret Groarke, who’s lived in the area more than a decade.

“It smells and looks disgusting,” Groarke said, adding it also could present a veritable public health hazard.

What wasn’t clear was from whence the liquid flowed. Groarke previously believed it was oozing from the side of an apartment building at 3804 Bailey Ave. Some merciful soul covered up part of it with a metal plate, yet the foulness flowed on in spite of it.

“People are walking through crap,” said Dart Westphal, another resident. “There must be something that can be done.”

Yet, to get it fixed, the city first had to find out who to send the repair bill to.

“I understand that a long-term solution depends on being clear about who should pay for it,” Westphal said, “but how hard is it to put a pipe through the sidewalk and a hose down to the storm sewer at the corner?”

DEP initially attributed the leaking nastiness to the La Casita day care facility at 111 W. 238th St., said Joshua Stephenson, constituent services director for Councilman Andrew Cohen. But after speaking with Jorge Morales — DEP’s Bronx sewers supervisor — it became clear as clean water casting blame on the day care had generated a “false alarm,” Groarke said. The facility — regulated by the city’s health department — was exonerated, and DEP set to work hiring a private contractor to fix the sewer snafu.

Still, they’d need permits from various city agencies to start repairs, including the transportation department, Groarke said.

“I hope it gets done soon,” Groarke said.

Hernan Polanco, who lives close to the Jerome Park Reservoir near Sedgwick Avenue, likes taking his two sons for strolls to Van Cortlandt Park, often traversing that section of West 238th that has become a corridor of pungency and liquid grime. Crossing the street was its own challenge, the three of them being forced to hold their breath to evade the odor — one the father compared to rotting rat flesh.

“On some days, the smell is really unbearable, if the wind catches it right,” Polanco said. “It can bring it to the other side of the street, so it’s hard to avoid.”

Polanco’s son recalled the problem persisting well over a month, possibly stretching back as far as July or even June. Yet, when it started, it was but a trickle, Polanco said, gradually worsening as summer simmered.

But what further alarmed Polanco was what appeared to be some kind of algae growing in the liquid grime, creating a new hazard — slipping.

Fearing the problem could fester, Polanco complained to DEP. If it persisted into frigid months, not so far off, he reasoned, the water could freeze, making the street even more treacherous for pedestrians, as well as potentially widening any cracks or fissures into which it had seeped once the dirty ice expanded.

“Who knows what could happen if it isn’t taken care of properly,” Polanco said. “We’re exposed to so many types of pollutions. I hope it’s not something that can cause somebody to suffer some type of ailment.”

Others also complained, including Groarke. And the city heeded their calls.

DEP’s initial investigation discovered a leak from a city sewer is to blame, spokesman Edward Timbers said, adding crews from his department were working to complete necessary repairs as soon as possible.

“It’s a city street,” said a DEP employee, who asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak to the media under his department’s policy. “There was a situation over there. The situation had to be found first before we could do anything. We’re on the job, and we’re going to stay there until the job’s completed.”

“All the infrastructure is old,” the employee added, subject to ages of wear and tear from heavy traffic and battering elements. “Things are going to break — including us.”

The leak’s exact location and precise cause, however, still aren’t clear, he added.

Residents, meanwhile, took solace at least in the fact the city has responded to their cries about the obstinate filth gush.

“There are a lot of trucks out in the street trying to deal with the sewer problem on (West) 238th,” Groarke said. “It looks like DEP and contractors they’ve hired are out there, figuring out how to fix the problem.”

If the salve came a bit later than Westphal would have liked, at least it came.

“It’s obviously offensive to people in the neighborhood,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to put up with things like this.”

CORRECTION:  Councilman Andrew Cohen’s constituent services director is Joshua Stephenson. A story that appeared in our Oct. 11 edition had an incorrect spelling.