Warren forging ahead with detention basin project

Proponents say time running out to comply with state requirements, work out deal to connect to OMID

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 7, 2017


WARREN — With state environmental deadlines bearing down amid the persistent risk of basement flooding and long-lingering questions about a plan to tie Warren into a massive regional drain, city officials have essentially opted to go in a different direction. 

In this case, the way forward will involve the construction of a detention basin capable of holding 15 million or more gallons of stormwater runoff. Coupled with increased pump and drain capacity and a system of relief sewers that is already under construction along major roadways, officials are hopeful that the solution will offer improved handling of stormwater and alleviate the potential for the type of catastrophic basement flooding that has plagued Warren neighborhoods for years.

The solution, city officials said, will be paid for through a $53 million bond issue, approved by the Warren City Council in December. City Controller Rob Maleszyk told council members at the time that the bonds will be paid back $3.5 million per year over a 20-year period at an annual cost of about $60 per user, which includes residential customers.

The detention basin will be constructed on the former Roosevelt Elementary School property, on Stephens east of the intersection of Schoenherr and Groesbeck.

On March 28, council members voted to let Council President Cecil St. Pierre reconsider his vote from two weeks prior, a vote he cast in favor of scheduling a Committee of the Whole session to further discuss the matter and explore a possible renewed effort to work with new Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller on a deal for connecting Warren’s sewers to the Oakland Macomb Interceptor Drain. The council then voted 4-3 against scheduling another meeting, effectively ruling out the exploration of any other options.

The city has been in litigation over the sought-after OMID connection for the last three years. Warren treats its own wastewater and does not routinely send sanitary sewer waste to the interceptor, but such a connection is used to prevent combined sewer overflow from backing up into the basements of homes and businesses if the system becomes overloaded during a deluge.

The OMID is overseen by a three-member board comprised of the respective public works commissioners for Oakland and Macomb counties, and a representative named by the Michigan governor.

For Warren, the OMID connection was among a list of options explored as a possible solution to persistent flooding in areas of Warren during the heaviest rains. At issue has been the cost of Warren’s initial buy-in, and the risk the city would take on for any future maintenance costs of the aging system.

The drain runs west to east along 15 Mile Road and then cuts south toward Detroit, running through the utility corridor between Hoover and Schoenherr.  

Another issue for Warren engineers, and for some members of council, is that in the past the OMID board has not been able to guarantee Warren continued access to needed flow capacity in the event of area-wide heavy rain if that capacity is needed by other municipalities, as defined by contract.

“One of the conditions was they would be able to cut Warren off if the rest of the users of the system needed that capacity,” Warren City Engineer James Van Havermaat told council members March 28. “A deal like that is no deal.”

Van Havermaat said that while Miller may be “sincere” in her desire to help Warren connect to the interceptor drain, “she can’t guarantee anything.”

Additionally, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality could impose a penalty of $25,000 per day if Warren does not work out a solution.

“We could sit and play around with this for another year, two years. In the meantime, the DEQ, I don’t see them stopping their enforcement actions against us,” Van Havermaat said. “I think they’re at their end.”

When asked about the detention basin plan, Warren WasteWater Treatment Plant Division Head David Monette said there are several advantages over further pursuing the interceptor connection.

“There’s clearly a timing benefit, because we have a plan. We have the ability to move it forward without needing to get other people to approve what we’re doing and without having to negotiate with anybody else,” Monette said. “There’s a cost benefit also. It will be cheaper. And then ultimately, when we have to do maintenance on the system, we’re in control of future costs.”

City engineers said construction of the relief sewers, including those along 10 Mile and 12 Mile roads, will be a necessary part of any solution going forward, be it the OMID connection or the detention basin. Construction of the sewers has already cost the city more than $18 million.

Council members Kelly Colegio, Keith Sadowski and Scott Stevens voted in favor of scheduling another meeting and inviting Miller or a member of her staff.

Colegio said the council was told in 2013 that constructing a detention basin would have cost $40 million more than connecting to the OMID, but Monette said the numbers changed when the plan emerged to construct a smaller basin on the former Roosevelt school site.

“I still think we should have a cCmmittee of the Whole (meeting),” Colegio said. “Yes, we bought a property. We can sell a property. Other than that, we haven’t really taken the other steps to move forward with this project.

“We still don’t know what it’s going to cost yearly to clean this retention basin or what the smell is going to be for our residents,” Colegio said.