MIDDLE VILLAGE — The city's Health Department is taking its crackdown on standing water to a grave extreme, critics say, slapping a Middle Village cemetery with a $600 fine for having stagnant water in flower holders just before Mother’s Day, according to officials and public reports.
Calling the fine "extortion by the city," the outraged president of All Faiths Cemetery on Metropolitan Avenue, Daniel Austin, said he would challenge the penalty in court on June 15.
Standing water has been a big concern for the city, which is worried about mosquito larvae breeding and spreading the deadly West Nile Virus. But the move to fine an Astoria homeowner $300 for standing water in his birdbath, as reported in the New York Times, raised eyebrows.
Health Inspectors checked out the massive 225-acre graveyard, the final resting place for 250,000 people, on May 10 — just two days ahead of Mother’s Day, the busiest week for the cemetery, Austin said.
Bringing flowers to the cemetery in holders with water is prohibited between the months of May and October, according to the Daily News, which first reported the story.
According to Austin, inspectors found water and mosquito larvae in flower receptacles there.
"We try our best to adhere to Health Department rules," said Austin, a retired NYPD detective. "But it is physically impossible for us [to check each grave site] when people bring water from outside."
Austin said it rained for two days before the inspection and alleges that despite the graveyard’s office being open at the time, no one brought the ticket to his attention.
Calling the fine an "attack on mothers and Mother’s Day," Austin alleged the city was "generating income off the backs of the deceased."
Austin said he plans to fight the summons in court on June 15. If he fights the summons, he will be fined $1,200, he said.
This is the second ticket for standing water the cemetery has faced in recent times.
Three years ago, they were fined when water was found in a garbage receptacle. Austin said it had rained the night before and the inspection took place before they had a chance to take out the trash.
In a statement to The Daily News, the Health Department said the cemetery "received violations for standing water in vases and flower pots that contained decaying organic material and mosquito larvae."
"Standing water is conducive to mosquito-breeding species, which are responsible for transmission of West Nile Virus," the statement said.