Sterling Heights suit over sinkhole dismissed
A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit the city of Sterling Heights filed challenging its proposed share of the $75 million in repairs to a collapsed sewer line that caused a massive sinkhole in Fraser.
Macomb County Circuit Judge Jennifer Faunce granted the Macomb Interceptor Drainage District’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, which county officials said threatened the progress of fixing the sewer and sinkhole.
In its lawsuit, Sterling Heights sought “superintending control” to compel the drainage district to sue the county agency or any entity responsible for the sinkhole. It also sought to stop the county from assessing the city for the costs of the sinkhole’s repair.
Faunce disagreed. “Ultimately I don’t think superintending control is appropriate,” she said.
She said the drainage district could sue any agency or entity responsible for the sewer collapse.
“We’re disappointed,” Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said after the judge’s decision. “But we’re going to go back to our City Council and talk to our attorney and see what our options are for going forward.
“I’m going to do everything I can to protect our taxpayers.”
The city of Sterling Heights sued the district last week to challenge its share of the tab to fix the sewer line.
County officials praised the ruling.
“We think the court made the absolute right decision today in dismissing this lawsuit that Sterling Heights erroneously and very irresponsibly brought against the county and the drainage district,” said Candice Miller, Macomb County’s public works commissioner.
Miller acknowledged the drainage district could sue the entity responsible for the sinkhole, but that would probably mean the county would have to sue itself.
She said her office’s focus right now is getting the sinkhole fixed.
Trouble erupted on Dec. 24 when the Macomb Interceptor Drain, a sewer line that runs beneath 15 Mile, collapsed and produced a 100-foot wide, 250-foot-long sinkhole that forced the evacuation of 22 homes.
Occupants in 19 of the homes have since been allowed to return, but three other houses were condemned. Two houses have been demolished.
The 11-foot-diameter pipe that collapsed transports sewage into a network that leads to a waste water treatment plant in Detroit operated by the Great Lakes Water Authority. The drainage district assumed ownership of the sewer from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in 2010.
The sewer line’s operation and maintenance is overseen by the Macomb Interceptor Drainage District, an entity made up of the cities of Fraser, Sterling Heights and Utica, the village of New Haven, and Chesterfield, Shelby, Clinton, Harrison, Lenox, Washington, and Macomb townships as well as the Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
County officials have estimated repairs to cost $75 million, with the project to be completed in September.
In April, the Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District board approved an assessment that apportioned about $22.2 million of the overall repair costs to Sterling Heights, officials said in a statement Monday.
Last week, officials said they learned “other areas of concern,” including other pipe fractures in the collapsed sewer line, which prompted them to ask for $6.2 million more for repairs.
In Monday’s hearing, Sterling Heights’ attorneys argued the city should not have to pay for the repairs because the drainage district and former county Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco failed to invest and properly maintain the sewer line, which resulted in its collapse.
Marrocco was succeeded in office by Miller, a former United States representative.
Last week, Miller said the lawsuit would affect a bond sale to cover repairs to the sewer line and sinkhole. The sale of about $70 million in bonds for repairs was scheduled for this week. Miller said the bond sale is expected in the next 10 days. The delay will likely add to the expense of the repairs, Miller said, and additional costs will be passed on to Sterling Heights.
Officials said the legal costs of the lawsuit also will add to the bill but they didn’t know by how much.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley announced that a $3 million state grant would help repair the sinkhole. The funding supplemented a $2 million grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.