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Hackel declares emergency in Macomb Co. over sinkhole

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Macomb County on Thursday declared a state of emergency, the first step in seeking state and federal assistance after a massive sinkhole developed on a busy Fraser road on Dec. 24.

County Executive Mark Hackel asked Gov. Rick Snyder to issue a similar declaration to clear the way for state and federal funds to repair damage to the road and at least 22 homes in the area from a collapsed sewer line. Fraser Mayor Joe Nichols posted a copy of the letter on his Facebook page Thursday.

“On January 5, 2017, ... I declared that a ‘state of emergency’ exists in Macomb County due to a sewer collapse/sink hole on 15 Mile Road, just east of Hayes in the city of Fraser,” Hackel wrote.

“I respectfully request, for and on behalf of the citizens of this political subdivision, that you declare that a ‘state of disaster’ or ‘state of emergency’ exists therein and that consideration be given, if conditions warrant, to petitioning the President of the United States for assistance ...,” the letter says.

In his letter, Hackel said the county will submit damage assessment information to the governor.

The letter came a day after Hackel and newly installed Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said they held a conference call with the governor to discuss the sinkhole. Miller said Wednesday that Snyder planned to visit the site.

Hackel requested that state assistance to supplement local response and recovery efforts include “any and all” financial assistance including activation of the State Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund, assistance through other state funds and U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program.

Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said the state received Hackel’s letter Thursday afternoon. The State Policy Emergency Management Division is reviewing the request and will make a recommendation to the governor.

It’s possible the governor could receive the agency’s recommendation Friday.

Vicki Wolber, director of Macomb County’s Emergency Management Department, said Hackel’s declaration and his letter are the first step in the process to getting help from the state and federal government.

“We just wanted to be proactive and protect our citizens by doing the declaration and seek some potential resources from the state,” she said.

Wolber said the last time the county declared an emergency was when thousands of homes were flooded by heavy rains in August 2014.

Officials said the 100-foot-wide, 300-foot-long sinkhole that emerged Dec. 24 has displaced the occupants of 22 homes, three of which have been condemned. It also has affected service to the communities served by the sewer line.

They said the sinkhole was likely caused by the collapse of the leaking Macomb Interceptor Drain sewer under 15 Mile, which is the border between Clinton Township and Fraser. The county-owned Macomb Interceptor transports sewage from 11 northern Macomb County communities into a network that leads to a waste water treatment plant in Detroit operated by the Great Lakes Water Authority.

The 3-mile-long, concrete sewer main runs west along 15 Mile from Garfield to ITC Michigan’s electric transmission lines corridor. The pipe is about 11 feet in diameter.

At the ITC corridor, the line connects to a giant sewer transmission line, the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor, which serves 850,000 residents in 25 municipalities in Macomb and Oakland counties. The two counties purchased the sewer line from Detroit in 2009.

Miller said Wednesday work continues to build a temporary bypass of the ruptured sewer line and it will take three to four weeks to complete.

There have been at least three sinkholes on 15 Mile over the Macomb Interceptor. The first was in 1979 and the second in 2004. The 2004 sinkhole, which was in Sterling Heights, was about 1/3of a mile from this latest one.

At the time of the 2004 sinkhole, the Macomb Interceptor was owned by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Its collapse created a sinkhole that took months and tens of millions of dollars to fix.

It was also at the heart of a 2011 lawsuit touching on the corruption scandal of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.