From left, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence talks to Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak outside Tomkowiak’s home July 2 regarding the June 26 flooding and basement backups.

From left, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence talks to Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak outside Tomkowiak’s home July 2 regarding the June 26 flooding and basement backups.

Photo provided by the office of Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence


Flooding cleanup continues as officials seek answers and federal disaster aid

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 13, 2021

Advertisement

GROSSE POINTES — Following catastrophic flooding and basement sewage backups that struck swaths of Wayne County June 26 — including the Grosse Pointes, Harper Woods and the east side of Detroit — Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, visited several locations July 2 as she tries to secure federal disaster relief for the region.

“I knew it was bad, but to hear the personal stories and to hear the anguish and grief was really devastating,” said Lawrence, who spoke with residents and officials during stops in Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Park to get a personal look at the loss left in the wake of the flood. “This is real suffering that people have experienced.”

Lawrence said this incident was “clearly a natural disaster” and said she’s working with other government officials at the local, county and federal levels to get a disaster declaration for the area. That would potentially bring federal funds and other resources to residents, businesses and municipalities who suffered massive losses.

Among the spots Lawrence visited was the home of Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak. Tomkowiak lives in the 800 block of Washington Road, which suffered some of the worst damage in the City.

“The reason this area was so hard-hit was because the Fox Creek interceptor runs right under us,” Tomkowiak said.

Since it was built 97 years ago, Tomkowiak said, her home has never flooded before. She said her home happens to be a bit more elevated than many of her neighbors.

“I consider us lucky,” said Tomkowiak, who got 2 feet of water in her basement but doesn’t have to replace her boiler or hot water heater. Many residents have had to replace all major appliances in their basements because of flood damage.

Tomkowiak said Lawrence’s office was “very responsive” when she first contacted them about the storm crisis.

“I’m really pleased that she came,” Tomkowiak said of Lawrence. “Seeing it firsthand makes a difference. I’m hoping she will go back to the federal level and advocate for federal (aid).”

Lawrence said that’s what she intends to do.

“(The communities and residents) have so much to do,” Lawrence said. “I want the community to know I care. I am the representative (in Congress) of the citizens of Grosse Pointe. … Help is on the way. I am rolling up my sleeves.”

During a Grosse Pointe Park City Council meeting July 12 via Zoom, Park City Manager Nick Sizeland said FEMA representatives were in Grosse Pointe Park and Grosse Pointe City July 9 talking to flooding victims about how much water they got in their homes.

“I want to thank our DPW again,” Park City Councilwoman Aimee Rogers Fluitt said. “I know all of us appreciate the work that (they) did.”

Responding to a question from Park City Councilwoman Lauri Read about the city’s claim forms, Sizeland said that if the area were designated a federal disaster area by FEMA, residents would need to fill out a separate form in the future for FEMA.

In the meantime, residents of the Pointes are urged to fill out claim forms with their respective cities. Park City Attorney Thomas “Jake” Howlett said residents have 45 days from the date of the storm event to file their claims. Acknowledging some confusion about the deadline, Park City Councilman Vikas Relan said Aug. 10 is the safest date to use.

Howlett said the Park’s form asks for more information than required by statute because, in his experience, the more information people provide, the more likely they are to receive better compensation for their losses.

“The more detail that is provided … that is going to help the residents, that’s going to help the city get reimbursed,” Howlett said.

Howlett said residents don’t need to file a separate claim form with the Great Lakes Water Authority as long as they’ve already filed with the city, because the city will use the data from the forms it receives to file claims for reimbursement “from the entities that (the city) believes were responsible” for the backups.

“Do the best you can (with the form) … and get it in within 45 days,” Howlett advised residents. “As long as you file with the Park, you are protected.”

Lawrence, likewise, stressed the importance of impacted residents and businesses filing claim forms with the cities. The 45-day deadline applies to all of the impacted municipalities. Lawrence said even more affluent communities like the Pointes are facing tremendous unexpected costs as a result of flooding and sewage backups — including the hiring of additional contractors to collect mountains of trash — and the more claims that are filed, the more possible aid may be made available.

Tomkowiak said that’s certainly true for the City, which had to hire contractors after being unable to get help from the state.
“We have six guys and four garbage trucks,” Tomkowiak said of the City’s small but dedicated DPW staffers. A single City garbage truck could only hold about half of a home’s worth of basement discards, Tomkowiak said; it should be noted that, besides appliances, many residents have considerable amounts of furniture and other items in their basements. As a result, Tomkowiak said the City had to hire contractors with semi-trucks — which could collect about 2.5 houses’ worth of garbage before filling up.

“Our guys couldn’t keep up with it,” Tomkowiak said. “They couldn’t even lift some of the water-sodden (items).”

She said she was also “incredibly worried” about the risk to public health of leaving tainted trash at the curb, which could draw rats that had been displaced from their sewer homes by the flooding.

“If we had waited for another agency to come to our aid, we would have still been waiting seven days later,” Tomkowiak said July 2. “With a public health risk of this magnitude, we could not wait.”

Tomkowiak estimated it would take the City about three to four weeks to finish cleanup from the storm.

She said Grosse Pointe Shores — which wasn’t impacted as severely as other Pointes — sent one of its garbage trucks and some of its DPW staffers to assist in the City, but the other Pointes and Harper Woods had too much cleanup in their own communities to lend a hand.

“One of the issues we have to look at down the road is mutual aid for these kind of events,” Tomkowiak said. “We need a wider net of mutual aid” for something like this.

In a July 1 letter to residents, Grosse Pointe Farms Mayor Louis Theros wrote that, as of the end of June, officials believed almost 6,000 homes in the Grosse Pointes and dozens of businesses had been impacted by the flooding.

The question of what caused the flooding and backups is still under review.

“What we know thus far is we experienced a rainfall like none other,” Theros wrote. “The early indication is that something went wrong with the Connor Creek pumping station in Detroit that may have contributed to the flooding of basements and streets. We are working closely with the other Pointes and Harper Woods to ensure that we get answers as to what happened. We are talking to Wayne County, the Great Lakes Water Authority, Detroit, and state and federal officials on an almost daily basis to find out what happened and what type of financial support we can get to assist residents.”

Officials from the Grosse Pointes said all of their pump stations were monitored and operating properly during the storm. GLWA, which operates the Conner Creek facility, has said it will seek an opinion from an independent engineering firm into what occurred.

In a prepared statement issued July 2, GLWA CEO Sue McCormick said the Conner Creek station, along with the nearby Freud Pump Station, “faced operational challenges … (but) did not fail.”

The first pump at Conner Creek went on at 12:36 a.m. June 26, and the second pump went on at 12:44 a.m., but shortly afterward, McCormick said, the station lost “house power,” which runs access gates, building lights and the control system.

An electrician assigned to Conner Creek who had been working on a power outage at the Freud station returned to Conner Creek when the latter experienced its house power outage and reset the circuit breaker to restore house power, she said. Because of street flooding, a trip from Freud to Conner Creek that would have normally taken three minutes took 15 minutes for the electrician.

McCormick said that, following the breaker reset, “the third pump went online at 1:41 a.m., the fourth pump at 1:44 a.m. and the fifth pump at 1:53 a.m. Systems Control attempted to bring the sixth pump online, but multiple faults were experienced. Concerned with disrupting the five running pumps, Systems Controls stopped after three attempts.”

As to pump station staffing, McCormick said the Freud Station “is operated remotely,” while Conner Creek “was staffed” in anticipation of a storm that had been predicted to be 1 inch to 1.5 inches. During a less than 19-hour period from June 25 into June 26, McCormick said, southeast Michigan received 7 to 8 inches of rain.

“Not only did we receive a large volume of precipitation, but it also fell in very intense bursts,” McCormick said in a prepared statement. “The highest intensity was a three-hour burst that occurred just before and after midnight (June 26).”

For veterans, The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms is offering a financial helping hand. Veterans in the area who were impacted by storm damage from June 24 to 27 can apply for grants from the Veterans Storm Relief Damage Fund. Up to $50,000 in grants will be awarded to qualifying applicants. Applications must be turned in by July 28. To apply or for more information, visit www.warmemo rial.org or contact War Memorial Development Associate Josiah Foster at jfoster@warmemorial.org.

At press time, representatives from FEMA were still visiting local homes and businesses in the area to assess the damage. It wasn’t known at press time whether the communities would qualify for federal assistance or when that determination might be made.

Advertisement