Mayor Fouts requests federal help after basements flood

Lawsuit after May rains already on file in Macomb County Circuit Court

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published December 14, 2011


WARREN — Soon after heavy rain again fell on Warren late last month, Mayor Jim Fouts said he was flooded with messages from residents left with water in their basements.

It was the second time this year that happened, Fouts said, recalling a May 25 storm that resulted in a similar deluge of calls.

“There were several hundred. I’ve tried to return every call,” Fouts said last week. “For those people who’ve encountered this, it’s been horrendous.”

Some residents, Fouts said, were hit with cleanup costs they can ill afford. In some instances, he said, the costs exceeded $10,000.

Fouts said one resident told him her home “smells like an outhouse.”

“We’ve had two once-in-a-lifetime, hundred-year floods within one year,” Fouts said. “We’re looking for short-term solutions, getting some temporary pumps in some areas. Besides that, the long-range plan is to tap into the Macomb-Oakland interceptor.

“It will cost us some money. What I’m looking for is for some immediate relief for these good people who’ve had to suffer the indignation of two severe floods in a six-month period.”

Fouts said he wrote a letter to U.S. Rep Sander Levin, D-Roseville, on Dec. 2, requesting federal aid.

He specifically asked for Levin’s help in securing financial assistance as Warren attempts to upgrade its “50-year-old antiquated infrastructure that cannot handle large volumes of water in a short time.”

Fouts called on Levin to initiate legislation to afford special appropriations to older communities, including Warren, “whose sewer capacity is inadequate for situations like this.”

Late last week, Levin issued a statement indicating he spoke with Fouts and sent a letter to him outlining his concerns about Warren’s situation as it relates to potential cuts to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

“I spoke this week with Mayor Fouts and he conveyed a number of personal stories of homes hit hard by the recent flooding,” Levin said. “The problems experienced in Warren highlight why it is so wrongheaded to significantly cut back — as proposed by Congressional Republicans — the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides the major source of federal funds for sewer repair projects.

“The Republican proposal would slash in half the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at a time when it should be increased. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund has traditionally been a federal-state-local partnership, and I will continue to fight Republican efforts to dramatically scale back federal funding,” Levin said in the statement.

As the calls came in from areas of the city most severely affected — including neighborhoods near 12 Mile and Schoenherr, and near the Butcher Educational Center, south of Martin and east of Ryan — Fouts said he met with his staff to consider options for preventing future flooding.

When he delivered his proposed water budget last month, Fouts detailed proposed expenditures of $500,000 for contractual sewer cleaning projects.

Warren Council President Scott Stevens said jetting sewers — and other things the city and residents can do, short of spending millions to build massive sewers — can help keep water out of basements during the heaviest rains.

“It’s something the city couldn’t have foreseen. This has been the third-wettest year since (weather) history has been recorded,” Stevens said. “That rain (Nov. 29), had it been snow, it would have been about 33 inches of snow.”

Stevens said he would propose putting money aside for sewer infrastructure maintenance.

He’d also like to see crews use cameras to visually inspect the integrity of the city’s infrastructure.

The city is already facing legal action in Macomb County Circuit Court in the wake of flooding after the heavy rains in May.

Attorney Steven Liddle represents a group of more than 100 homeowners who claim their homes were damaged by flooding related to sewer backups. The lawsuit was filed Oct. 21 and is currently in its initial stages.

Liddle said residents impacted by sewer backups should provide written notice to the city within 45 days to preserve their right to file a lawsuit. They should also save any receipts for costs incurred and should take photographs of the damage.

After the initial 45-day window to send the written notice has passed, Liddle said the law allows residents to file a lawsuit after another 45-day period.

He said such cases, once filed, typically take up to 18 months to resolve.

“I’ve almost never lost these cases,” Liddle said. “They (the city) always say that it’s an act of God; it rained too much; it’s not their fault; there’s not a defect.

“Commonsense should prevail. If you have sewage in your home in 2011 in the United States of America, that shouldn’t happen.”

The city’s attorney of record in that case, John Gillooly, could not be reached for comment last week.

Discussion about the mayor’s proposed water and sewer budget was expected to take place during a first reading of the plan at the council’s Dec. 13 meeting, after the Warren Weekly went to press.