Township wants community’s help in nabbing vandals

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published July 11, 2013

Township officials plan to prosecute the individual, or individuals, responsible for a recent rash of incidents that resulted in loss of water for residents and the loss of thousands of dollars to the township’s budget.

That’s if they find out who it is.

Supervisor Kenneth Verkest said that since May, unknown vandals have been opening random fire hydrants around the city, causing damage to the hydrants, flooding streets and causing some homeowners to experience low water pressure and, in some instances, they are losing water pressure entirely.

“Last year, we had an incident in June where someone went around the center of the township late one night (or early in the morning) and opened over 20 fire hydrants,” Verkest said. “There was a considerable loss of water, as well as a loss in water pressure. There was local flooding and some areas of dirt roads were eroded and had to be repaired. The total cost to the community was thousands of dollars.”

This year’s incidents began happening at the end of May. Verkest said only two or three hydrants were opened at that time.

“However, last month, it happened again and involved at least nine hydrants,” he said. “This time, it resulted in a series of four breaks to the water main on Long Street.”

Verkest said water and sewer crews worked from 7 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. the following day repairing the breaks. While repairs were being made to the water main, residents in that area were without water and a boil water alert had to be issued for 24 hours after the repairs were completed. In addition, there was no water available for firefighting, he said.

“Only a few days earlier, there was a house fire on the same street,” said Verkest, referring to Long Street. “Our Fire Department was able to respond quickly and bring the fire under control, which resulted in saving the structure with minimal damage. Had these two events happened simultaneously, there could have been a loss of the structure; it could have spread to another structure, or even serious injury or a loss of life.”

One fire official said a residential fire hydrant without a cap, which can only be removed with a wrench, can release between 500 and 1,000 gallons of water per minute.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said criminal charges would vary by municipality and township, depending on what type of ordinances are in place; however, acts of vandalism such as this would likely be a misdemeanor, and the person or persons charged would face stiff fines and/or jail time.

But what has been happening in Harrison Township goes above and beyond just vandalism, Verkest said.

He said township officials initially thought the incidents were simply “pranks” possibly conducted by local graduating high school seniors.

“But the impact of this is significant,” Verkest said. “We have employees who are trained and equipped to respond to fires and water main breaks, but it is a shame that they must be called as a result of a prank. Further, the cost to our residents has now climbed to tens of thousands of dollars collectively.

“The only people authorized to operate a fire hydrant are our water and sewer personnel and, of course, our firefighters, both of which wear uniforms and (identification) and travel in easily-recognizable township vehicles.”

The incidents have occurred in residential areas between Shoreline and Townhall and between Metropolitan Parkway and South River Road.

Verkest said he hopes residents will become vigilant and report to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office anything suspicious they see in and around their neighborhoods; specifically, someone walking the streets late at night or early in the morning carrying a large tool, such as a wrench.

“If we identify the responsible parties, we will prosecute,” Verkest said. “The actions are criminal and the costs are in excess of $10,000, so the charges would be significant.”