City, utility officials investigate unknown cause that uprooted road in SW Detroit

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city has partnered with utility providers and the state to investigate an issue underneath and beside a southwest Detroit marijuana dispensary that quickly caused an 8-foot mound to erupt in the middle of Dearborn Street. 

Detroit's Chief Operating Officer Hakim Berry said workers of the Stash Provisioning Center on Saturday witnessed the ground shift the building and raise the road within 25 minutes.

The Detroit Fire Marshall and Building Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department has determined that the Stash Provisioning Center is unsafe and will be demolished once a DTE Energy gas line is repaired and conditions are safe to do so, Detroit's Chief Operating Officer Hakim Berry said Monday.

The buckling of the roadway damaged a 16-inch DTE Energy gas main and crews are still working to get it repaired. Once stabilized, Berry said, they will begin excavation.

It's unclear what caused the damage to the road and building, why the mound hasn't collapsed and what's holding it up. 

"We’ve talked to a lot of experts and all have said they’ve never seen anything like this," Berry told reporters during a press update Monday at the site. "It’s very intriguing to us and we can’t wait to get in there and see what caused this."

Hakim Berry, Chief Operating Officer for the City of Detroit, speaks during a press conference, September 13, 2021, to address a suspected water main break beneath a southwest Detroit marijuana dispensary that caused a 10-foot mound that bubbled up in the middle of Dearborn Street near Fort Street the previous day.

The owner of the facility said he began to smell gas on Saturday and contacted DTE Energy. During DTE's examination of the building, water was found leaking through the basement and the facility was evacuated, Berry said. 

Around 7 p.m., while the employees were outside, the ground began to slowly swell for nearly 30 minutes to the state it is now. The back of the building rose and shifted while the mound appeared simultaneously, he said. 

"Since then, we've been monitoring the situation, checking for safety issues," Berry said. "We know the utilities underneath the ground were displaced including, gas, water, telecom, and electrical lines above were displaced as well."

DTE Energy is working to repair the methane gas leak and has halted service to less than a dozen customers in the industrial area. No residents have to be evacuated. Water is safe to drink, officials said.

West Fort and Dearborn streets are blocked off following an apparent explosion.

The Detroit Fire Marshall and Building Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department has determined the Stash facility is unsafe and will be demolished once the gas line is repaired and conditions are safe to do so, Berry said. 

DTE estimated the gas line would be repaired Monday evening. Late Monday, the city said the work remained underway. Once the utilities are disconnected demolition can begin on the building. Then, an investigation will begin to determine what occurred underground, he said.

The city is also working with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, and the Detroit Health Department to test air quality in the area.

"There was no explosion here," said Berry, adding there's no danger to surrounding residents.  "There was a slow growth of something that happened underneath. The water is fine and there is no other disruption in other utilities ... We can't get in there to investigate yet."

Ranee Tomina, vice president of DTE Energy gas operations, said crews did respond to reported leaks in the area weeks leading up to the Saturday event, but each leak was repaired before crews left the site.

"The safety of our customers and employees is our No. 1 priority and we ensure that before we leave any situation," Tomina said. "At this point, there is no indication that this was a result of a natural gas leak or a result of our infrastructure not operating as it should be so we'll continue to work cooperatively with Great Lakes Water Authority and Detroit's Public Works Department."

The agencies previously suspected that a water or gas line break led the road to buckle and affect nearby gas and electrical lines. 

The dispensary sits beside a scrapyard and across from an auto repair shop. Berry said it appears the mound has separately risen from the uprooting of the back of the dispensary.

Berry did not speculate on what could have led to the issues, but said nothing else has shifted since the incident.

A worker walks past a mound that bubbled up in the middle of Dearborn Street near Fort Street, September 13, 2021, after a water main break damaged the street as well as a neighboring business the previous day.

"Once DTE has sealed the gas, if it is appropriate to demolish, we'll start first thing in the morning and make this site safe," Berry said. "We're talking about a couple of days of change over here." 

Fort Street between Miller and Dearborn Street — a major truck artery — remain closed Monday along with sections of other streets. There are no residences within a few hundred yards of the intersection across the street from Woodmere Cemetery and near metal scrapyards and other industrial businesses.

The odor of gas still lingered Monday outside the Stash Provisioning Center dispensary. No one was injured in the incident. 

Suzanne Coffey, interim director of the Great Lakes Water Authority, said Monday that the water main break was isolated. While conducting repairs, the water pressure did not drop to a level that was concerning, Coffey said, and "we are confident that the water is safe to drink."

Stash Provisioning Center was damaged by the apparent explosion.  The scene was near Dearborn Street and West Fort Street in Detroit on Sept. 12, 2021.  The explosion took place on Sept. 11 between 8 and 8:30 pm.

Staff writer George Hunter contributed.