Snyder declares state of emergency for Macomb County

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder Friday declared a state of emergency for Macomb County due to a sewer line collapse that caused a massive sinkhole on a busy road in Fraser.

“The terrible situation in Fraser has displaced families and caused a burden to those living in the area,” Snyder said in a statement.

“The state is committed to using all of its resources and working with local partners to ensure this community recovers and residents return to a sense of normalcy. I’d like to thank emergency responders and the many others who have been working hard to address this situation,” Snyder said.

The declaration authorizes the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to coordinate state efforts along the area of the sinkhole at 15 Mile.

Fraser Mayor Joe Nichols welcomed the governor’s decision to declare an emergency.

“I’m very grateful the governor has stepped up to help the people of Fraser,” he said. “I’m very appreciative of the work of everyone who has stepped up to help our city during this difficult time.”

Nichols said the declaration will mean the city now knows where the money to pay for repairing the sewer and sinkhole will come from.

“What this will do is provide funding for the project,” he said. “Before, we weren’t certain exactly where it was going to come from. This provides avenues for funding to be allocated to make the proper inspections and repairs long-term.”

Vicki Wolber, director of Macomb County’s Emergency Management Department, also praised the governor’s announcement.

“Obviously, we’re very pleased about the declaration,” she said. “It opens up some potential avenues and resources of support for us.”

Wolber said it’s still too early to tell how much the repairs will cost and how much funding it come from the state.

The 100-foot-wide, 250-foot-long sinkhole appeared Dec. 24 and officials said it was caused by the collapse of the leaking Macomb Interceptor Drain sewer main that runs under 15 Mile, the border between Clinton Township and Fraser.

Snyder officials said due to the size and scope of the repair process, the population the pipeline serves, the instability of the ground for the sinkhole to spread and a currently obstructed sewer flow capacity, there is “an imminent threat to cause widespread and severe damage to 11 communities and Selfridge Air National Guard Base.”

More than 200,000 homes and businesses and more than 500,000 residents and their property could be impacted should the ground shift, the sinkhole expand or severe weather impacts the area, he said.

The county has activated its Emergency Operations Plan and local resources are being utilized to the fullest possible extent, however, despite these efforts, local resources are not sufficient to cope with the situation, Snyder’s statement said.

“We have been working closely with our local emergency management partners in Macomb County,” said Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police. “Personnel from our Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division have been engaged with the emergency manager in the affected community since the sinkhole formed.”

Fraser has been under a “local state of emergency” since Dec. 24, which activates local emergency response and recovery plans.

By requesting a governor’s declaration, the county has indicated local resources are insufficient to address the situation and state assistance is required to protect public health, safety and property to lessen or avert the threat of a crisis.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel made the request to the governor Thursday.

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.

The sinkhole has displaced the occupants of 22 homes on Eberlein Drive, three of which have been condemned. It also has affected service to the communities served by the sewer line.

Nichols said Friday the occupants of 19 of those homes are still on track to return to their houses next week, as early as Monday.

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 one-third of a mile from this latest one. Its collapse created a sinkhole that took months and tens of millions of dollars to fix.

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

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

Macomb County Macomb County Public Works Commissioner and former U.S. Congresswoman Candice Miller also applauded the governor’s emergency declaration Friday.

“We’re very appreciative of Gov. Snyder and his quick action to approve this emergency declaration,” Miller said in a statement.

“I look forward to working with our Congressional delegation — Sens. (Debbie) Stabenow, D-Lansing, and (Gary) Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and U.S. Reps. (Sander) Levin, D-Royal Oak, and (Paul) Mitchell, R-Dryden, — and our Macomb County delegation of state senators and state representatives, to begin exploring these options,” Miller said.