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Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Mechanized Sandbags

Sandbags are fine. But at three o’clock in the morning, with the water rising fast and most co-op members in dreamland, you may not have the manpower or the gumption to lay them down in time, and your board may be staring at tens of thousands of dollars worth of flood damage.

That was the story at One Kensington Gate, a 96-unit co-op in Great Neck, Long Island, which happens to be built on low ground. A recent flood heavily damaged 18 cars, most of them late models, and cost the co-op between $15,000 and $20,000 in pumping and cleaning costs. And the floods are becoming more frequent. Ira Litt, the board president, counts two floods in two years at One Kensington Gate (in 2006 and 2007), as opposed to only eight since he became a tenant-shareholder in 1973. He blames the increase on Nassau County’s aging and inadequate network of storm drains that don’t pull water underground but instead allow it to cascade into the co-op’s upper and lower garages, “like a waterfall, two- to four-feet high. Whenever there’s a major storm,” Litt says, “normally we’re putting sandbags out – but some are flash floods and you can’t do anything about [them].”

Shareholders didn’t like the perennial flooding dragging down the value of their apartments (prices range from $400,000 for a one-bedroom to $900,000 for a three-bedroom), and the co-op’s budget was being battered, with non-resident parkers starting to reconsider their $200-a-month parking fees in the 100-space garage. The flood control product in which One Kensington Gate ended up investing was discovered by former board member Mort Hans, a retired engineer who, while surfing the internet, found a device called Floodbreak made by a company in Splendora, Texas. Hans wanted a solution that would outperform sandbags but would not involve the construction of a new, higher street. It looked like Floodbreak – which was being used by several large corporate and military clients – might do the trick.

In one installation at the University of Houston, paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 20 Floodbreak gates have been installed in driveways and walkways that cut through a three-foot contiguous earthen barrier around the school.

Hans contacted property manager Michael Einsidler, a principal at Einsidler Management (and currently Northeast Representative for Floodbreak). He was so interested that he traveled to the Lone Star State to see Floodbreak in action. After witnessing a demonstration, Einsidler came back a believer, primarily because of two of Floodbreak’s integral features: it erects a gate to stop the flow of floodwaters automatically – without the need for human intervention – and it does so without utilizing an external power source.

Floodbreak amounts to an extremely strong machined aluminum wafer, which is hollow and thus lies flat between walls leading to the entrance to the property. Mounted within the aluminum wafer is a grating and rods that extend out and down when floodwaters cause the entire assembly to rise, locking it into place and creating a secure barrier, sealing the entryway. “If you don’t have a flood condition,” Einsidler says, “the water will flow out of the grate, but it won’t push the gate up. If the water has no place to go, it will pick up the gate.” He notes that in order for Floodbreak to work, it must be positioned between walls high enough to contain floodwaters.

The location of the device is crucial, because the surrounding topography must be carefully mapped so that water doesn’t find a way around the barrier. The board of One Kensington Gate found itself paying not only for an engineer to work out exactly how to anchor the device in the driveway, but for a geologist to map the flood plan on which the building sits. The price – once the gate is fully installed and operational this April 28 – will be an outlay of about $125,000, which is being drawn from the co-op’s reserves.

Litt is eager to roll out the new device and notes that once it is in place, “We should not have a flooding problem anymore.”

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