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Fraser sinkhole raises infrastructure questions

Fraser — A massive sinkhole that emerged over the weekend due to a leaky sewer line between Utica and Hayes has raised questions of whether the infrastructure in the area is being properly maintained.

The 100-foot-wide, 250-foot-long sinkhole has caused the evacuation of a row of homes near the corner of 15 Mile and Eberlein. Police also have closed 15 Mile between Utica and Hayes as a precaution and the city declared a state of emergency in the area. The collapse came 12 years after a smaller collapse led to a $50 million fix that took 10 months to complete.

Doug Martz, a Harrison Township resident and former Macomb County water quality official, said the latest issues with the collapsed sewer interceptor are more than enough evidence that infrastructure work is overdue.

“We need to fix this,” he said Tuesday. “This is the third time that sewer line has broken since 1978.”

Macomb County Public Works could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

But Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on Tuesday noted “the unfortunate collapse of the interceptor only underscores the importance of infrastructure improvements.”

The DEQ released a statement, saying it’s working with contractors, engineers and local officials to protect the health of residents in the area and restore normal sewer service.

This particular sewage line along 15 Mile Road was at the heart of a 2011 lawsuit touching on the corruption scandal of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. In legal filings, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony V. Marrocco accused Kilpatrick, former Detroit Water and Sewerage Department chief Victor Mercado and contractor Bobby Ferguson of stealing money from a sinkhole repair fund created to fix a 2004 sinkhole in Sterling Heights.

Despite earlier Marrocco protests, a federal judge in March 2007 ruled Macomb County and 11 communities served by the sewage line were responsible for the entire $53 million repair costs for the Sterling Heights sinkhole.

On Monday, crews pumped sewage from the sinkhole into the Clinton River after a rainfall. Had the sewage not been pumped, residents already affected by the sinkhole might have had sewage issues as well. Fraser officials made that decision in consultation with the DEQ.

On Tuesday, the DEQ noted it’s trying to limit harm to environment and is considering skimming solids and providing disinfection in impacted areas.

Martz, who currently serves as the St. Clair riverkeeper, said he was not pleased with the diversion of sewage into area waterways but agreed it was the “only option they had.”

Also Tuesday, responding crews from Macomb County Public Works struck a gas line, Consumers Energy confirmed.

The crew was installing a 24-inch plastic line when, around 8:15 a.m., it ruptured a 6-inch gas main, which created a rotten egg odor — the tell-tale sign of a gas leak.

By 11:30 a.m., the gas main was shut down to prevent further leakage, said Deb Dodd, a spokeswoman for Consumers. Crews are still repairing the main, but no natural gas customers of the energy company are affected. Most of the work was be completed Tuesday and crews will resume repairs Wednesday.

“We have to cut out a section of main and replace that, so that all couldn’t be done (Tuesday),” she said. “It’s safe. The gas is off. We’ll be out there (Wednesday) to finish the repairs.”

Meanwhile, area residents are being allowed to return to gather possessions but cannot live in the homes for now, and 15 Mile near the sinkhole will be closed for several months.

Residents have pushed local and county officials to identify what caused the collapse but were told it was too early Monday. State Rep. Steve Bieda said the state can help investigate the root cause of the collapse.

“The immediate thing is to make sure everything is stabilized and people are taken care of and to try to protect property to the extent we can,” Bieda, D-Warren, told residents at meeting Monday. “It’s obviously a very emotional thing and I’m very concerned about residents and businesses in this area.”

Late Tuesday, crews worked along 15 Mile under temporary streetlights to repair the sewer line.

Motorists traveling in the area maneuvered around barriers to find their way to local businesses.

The rumble of concrete being loaded into dump trucks and beeping machinery could be heard inside the Windsor Beauty Supply on 15 Mile, just east of Hayes.

“It sounds like a war zone,” said employee Lindsay Jenna of the noise coming from just beyond the store’s front parking lot. “It sounds bad.”

Jenna said the store is open. They’ve had to operate without phone or internet service.

“People think we’re closed,” she said. “We’re losing a little bit. It’s not a comparison to those people who lost their home, but it stinks a little.”

Jenna said she’s noticed at least 20 cars that have come into the parking lot throughout the day with motorists hoping to get a closer look at the sinkhole.

Among those who stopped was Chesterfield Township resident Jessica Westmoreland.

“We were out shopping,” she said. “I said, ‘Let’s go look at it.’ I knew it was blocked off. Just curious. ... Hopefully, nobody gets hurt.”

Staff Writer Jim Lynch contributed.