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 A water main break this past winter is costing the city of Fraser about $72,000 to fix. At some point, the main was cut and capped. A masonry bulkhead was later exposed.

A water main break this past winter is costing the city of Fraser about $72,000 to fix. At some point, the main was cut and capped. A masonry bulkhead was later exposed.

Photo provided by Anderson, Eckstein & Westrick

Water main break to cost Fraser thousands

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published July 29, 2019


FRASER — The city of Fraser is on the hook for another road-related bill on 15 Mile Road. This new revelation, however, doesn’t have anything to do with sinkholes.

City officials recently discovered that the affected roadway, about 400 feet east of Hayes Road, requires an immediate fix due to a water main that was never rightfully reconnected.

Fraser City Council members, sans Councilwoman Yvette Foster, convened for a special meeting July 18 to unanimously approve an approximate $72,000 bill for repairs.

Currently, two of the five total lanes have already been fixed, with the two inside lanes and the middle lane still requiring attention. It is approximately 100 feet from curb to curb.

The issue reportedly came to the city’s attention this past winter.

A 45-page report, provided by engineering firm Anderson, Eckstein & Westrick Inc. for insurance purposes, detailed the history of that stretch of road, leaving more questions than answers.

“Prior to December 24, 2016, the 15 Mile Road water main was not connected, resulting in two stubbed water mains,” AEW wrote in a July 18 letter to the city. “One under the south curb line emanating from Hayes Road to the west and the other in the greenbelt emanating from Hidden Pine to the east.

“From our records and investigation, it cannot be confirmed as to how long this condition existed.”

The report states that on Jan. 14 of this year, the Fraser Department of Public Works opened the 12-inch diameter water main gate valve at 15 Mile and Hayes roads in order to “energize the hydrant at that location.”

In February, Fraser DPW contacted AEW to report a “void” discovered underneath 15 Mile Road at the location of the water main break. AEW, in turn, contacted the Macomb County Department of Roads and the Macomb County Public Works Office for assistance.

A contractor, Cortis Brothers Trenching and Excavating, was hired to remove the pavement, perform an exploratory excavation and temporarily restore the site until permanent repairs could be completed in the spring.

The excavation “revealed a 12-inch diameter ductile iron water main beneath the curb and gutter,” later classified as “a failed masonry bulkhead” that was installed prior to the sinkhole that occurred in the city on Dec. 24, 2016.

A portion of that pipe, including the masonry bulkhead, was cut and removed during the exploratory excavation. A retainer gland and a bolted cap were installed. The excavation was backfilled with sand, while a temporary concrete patch was poured on Feb. 8. Fifteen Mile Road was completely reopened to traffic the morning of Feb. 11.

The report clarified that Fraser DPW, as part of its hydrant inventory process, opened that gate valve for the first time since December 2016.

DPW Superintendent Nick Schaefer could not be reached for comment by press time.

Officials and council members at the meeting pondered whether the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which formerly took care of city pipes, could be responsible for not properly connecting the water main before it failed.

“It could have happened anytime,” City Manager Wayne O’Neal said. “When we activated that water, it came through. How it held up for 20, 30 years, I don’t know.”

Others said it was something that should have been caught in years past, whether it was DWSD or a contractor who worked in the vicinity.

“I know it’s not a witch hunt and it’s to get this approved and moving ahead, but I think we seriously have to look at some recourse,” Councilman David Winowiecki said at the meeting.

City Attorney Donald DeNault said that evaluating potential insurance claims was on his radar.

Councilman Michael Lesich later noted how the city has been the victim of three sinkholes in the past few decades — in 1978, 2004 and 2016. Major local construction has occurred multiple times, and record keeping was “spotty.”

More importantly, Lesich stated, there is a possibility that nobody knew the bulkhead was there or could definitively state when the main was cut and capped.

“The root cause of the leak was not because we flushed a fire hydrant, but instead a possibly 40-year-old, previously unknown repair that failed,” Lesich said. “Whether this plug would have failed on its own, we will never know. But it’s reasonable to speculate that the repairs to the sewer line accelerated its failure.

“Fifteen Mile has been the location of three major sewer failures in 40 years. Undocumented emergency repairs, poor or conflicting record keeping, and the general neglect of this sewer by DWSD and the county prior to Candice Miller’s arrival only made things worse. Now that (Macomb County Public Works Commissioner) Miller is on the job, I have no doubt we’ve seen the last of sinkholes along Fraser’s border.”

O’Neal said July 22 that the fix should be completed within two weeks.