Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller discusses the root cause of the 15 Mile Road sinkhole Jan. 9 in the public works building. Miller points to activity that occurred back in 2014, which a hired expert claims spurred the eventual collapse of the piping and roadway.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller discusses the root cause of the 15 Mile Road sinkhole Jan. 9 in the public works building. Miller points to activity that occurred back in 2014, which a hired expert claims spurred the eventual collapse of the piping and roadway.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Miller: Sinkhole caused by ‘human error’

Macomb County files insurance claim on behalf of taxpayers

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published January 11, 2019

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FRASER — An infrastructure expert from Denver, Colorado, has concluded that the sinkhole that devoured a Fraser family’s home was a result of “human error.”

That was what Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller stated Jan. 9 at the MCPW Office. The expert, Gary Brierley of Brierley, Associates, was utilized to deal with what Miller called the “worst infrastructure disaster in Macomb County’s history.”

Brierley was hired to examine aspects like hydrology, photos, aerial views and other data. He was paid about $100,000 for his services.

The sewer interceptor collapse happened in December 2016, when residents heard a “pop-pop-popping” sound. But as Brierley detailed in his report, the process accelerated on May 9, 2014.

Work was being completed on the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor Drain, or OMID, which runs west of the sinkhole location. Following a day’s work of repairs, employees opened a gate for sewage and waste and let it flow for approximately seven minutes — rather than a gradual flow that is the norm — from an 11-foot pipe into an 8-foot pipe.

As a result, the flow rushed and hit the 8-foot pipe, reverted and went in the other direction, causing what Miller deemed a “tsunami of water” that caused a hairline fracture in the interceptor. That 8-foot pipe was constructed in 1978.

“They have gates within the interceptor that they’re able to close that holds the flow back, so the workers can work in the pipe. Very common, very proper,” Miller said. “But when the workers leave the pipe, the operator then has to raise the gates. And you do this following proper protocols, and the protocols for raising these gates call for the flow to be released over several hours.

“At least eight different times, and one time in particular, they released the flow in about seven minutes.”

She added, “It was like a bomb went off.”

Upon the passage of time, soil from outside the pipe created a “void” between the surface and the 60-foot pipe below ground. Eventually, the buildup forced the interceptor to collapse and the roadway to be shut down for about one year.

With Brierley’s analysis, the county has filed a claim on behalf of the taxpayers in the Macomb Interceptor Drainage District, or MIDD, to insurance companies. Residents of the 11 county communities in the MIDD — Fraser, Sterling Heights, Utica, New Haven, and Clinton, Shelby, Macomb, Chesterfield, Harrison, Lenox and Washington townships — are paying approximately $25 per year for a period of 25 years due to the collapse.

The county hopes restitution will occur, with Miller saying she’s “very hopeful” for a reasonable settlement.

“That’s why you have insurance, in case there’s a mistake,” she said.

If a “reasonable settlement” is not reached with the insurance companies, Miller threatened to take the companies to Macomb County Circuit Court for litigation — where “every one of our judges, and any jury they would pick, lived through this.”

Brierley’s forensic analysis also concluded that the three most notable sinkholes of the past few decades were caused by different means. Miller said the standard inspection rate is often five to seven years, but she anticipates that three-year schedules may become the new norm.

Miller could not confirm if any inspections occurred in that 2 1/2-year gap, from the May 2014 gate incident to the Christmas Eve 2016 sinkhole.

In March 2017, demolition began on one of the affected homes on Eberlein Drive — the street where the first home sunk into the ground. In total, 22 homes were affected, and three were condemned.

Later, a shaft approximately 300 feet long by 25 feet wide and 60 feet deep was constructed to better allow for the repair and replacement of the 11-foot-diameter collapsed interceptor.

A bond was utilized by the county to pay off $75 million in repairs. A total of 4,000 feet of piping was replaced during the restoration process. On Dec. 5, 2017, 15 Mile Road, between Hayes and Utica roads, was reopened.

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