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No Barrel of laughs: City’s botched giveway angers many

It was barrel bedlam!

Storm clouds of discontent swept over Marine Park on Saturday when a free rain barrel giveaway that coincided with a city environmental program ended in a chaotic mess.

Residents hoping to participate in the program — designed to help homeowners store their house’s rain runoff so it could be used later to water plants and front lawns — were stunned by the mismanagement of the April 16 distribution: fewer barrels were brought to the park than expected and the 55-gallon containers were given out earlier than the advertised 9 am start time, many said.

“It turned out to be a bunch of crap,” said Marine Park resident Peter Hoefler. “Everything got lost in the huddle.”

Those wishing to get a barrel and enroll in the Department of Environmental Protection program — which promises to reduce homeowner’s water bill while keeping local sewers from overflowing — braced rain and harsh winds for hours to grab just one barrel, but many ended up empty-handed.

City officials took down names and phone numbers so those who waited hours for nothing could get a barrel the next time the program rolls around, but that may not be until next year — leaving many as livid as Donkey Kong after Mario saves Pauline.

This was the first time the city Department of Environmental Protection’s Rain Barrel Giveaway Program, which originated in Queens in 2008, took place in Brooklyn.

Residents connect the barrels — which can cost anywhere from $70 to $200 in Home Depot or Lowes — to the end of their storm gutters and, after it fills with rain water, can used the liquid to water plants and lawns by attaching a hose to the bottom of the barrel.

The barrels are expected to be a big help in the summer, when homeowners spend 40 percent of their water usage on their lawns and gardens, city officials said.

Hoefler said he never got a barrel, but he managed to get all the way to the front of the line — only to be told to leave because his complaints about the distribution gave a city employee “bad vibes.”

Hoefler contends that the city didn’t properly vet those receiving the barrels: the program was meant for people living in a single-family or two-family home, but he saw neighbors who live in apartments and condos — evenlocal contractors — walking off with a white plastic barrel raised over their heads.

“It was a bunch of bull,” he said. “[The contractors] were picking up the barrels from the city for free and then they were going to offer it to their customers the next time they remodel a home.”

Other residents claimed that city employees were giving out program applications to passersby on the street — not those left idling along Avenue U as they waited to get into the park’s parking lot.

“The line of cars went around the park,” one resident told us. “Some people even parked across the street by the Salt Marsh Center, but ended up getting ticketed.”

The city didn’t have all 400 barrels slated for Marine Park when the distribution began either, many complained. About 200 were given out at the beginning, but dozens of people had to wait for more than an hour for the rest of the barrels to be trucked in.

Yet city officials have a different take on the barrel distribution.

“There was an overwhelming response,” explained city Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla. “We only had 400 barrels to give away in Brooklyn and by 9 am the line was very long. People were very enthusiastic about being in the program.”

One thousand barrels were given out in the entire city, Padilla said, adding that Brooklynites received more than any other borough.

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