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Macomb officials rip Sterling Heights for sinkhole suit

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Fraser — Work on a damaged sewer interceptor is proceeding “very, very well,” Macomb County officials said Thursday, despite delays caused by a lawsuit that’s expected to cause millions of dollars in extra costs.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller asks the public to stop flushing "flushable wipes" that actually end up clogging the sewer system April 12, 2017, in Fraser.

Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, county Executive Mark Hackel and other officials gathered at the sinkhole southeast of 15 Mile and Hayes to discuss the project and to criticize the city of Sterling Heights for filing the suit, which they say has disrupted efforts to proceed with repairs.

Hackel described the lawsuit as “ill-conceived and misguided,” adding, “Suing the county is suing the taxpayers of Macomb County.”

Miller vowed: “We will be going after them (Sterling Heights) for any additional expenses.”

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor declined a request for comment Thursday from The Detroit News.

A 100-foot-wide, 250-foot-long sinkhole opened Dec. 24 at the site when an interceptor drain and 11-foot diameter pipe collapsed below ground. Occupants of two dozen homes had to be evacuated and two homes were destroyed. Repair work was initially estimated at up to $75 million.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel

“Progress is going very, very well,” Miller said, standing before the mammoth sinkhole as a cacophony of earth-moving and construction machinery rattled and banged in the background.

“We are going 24/7 and have installed and ordered extra pipe,” she said. “The work is now more than 80 percent complete on the installation of piers needed for the project.”

Miller said additional damaged sewer pipe will be replaced to prevent a second sinkhole. She said sewage has been pumped into a bypass pipe, so far averting any potential “environmental disaster” of being forced to pump raw sewage into the Clinton River.

Among work highlighted Thursday:

■Drilling is complete for 208 of the needed 260 piers. The piers are 70 feet deep and 3 feet in diameter and will form a “cage” around the 60-foot-deep shaft needed to remove the damaged interceptor and install new pipe.

■Because of additional interceptor damage, a shaft is being dug 20 feet longer to the east of the original project.

■All pier drilling – the loudest part of the repair work – is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

A construction worker walks through the repair shaft for the collapsed 15 Mile Road Sewer Interceptor in Fraser, April 12, 2017.

“We still hope to have all the repairs done by the end of September so everyone will be able to go to grandma’s for Thanksgiving,” Miller said.

On the negative side, both officials said the suit filed by Sterling Heights delayed the sale of bonds until July – a delay that has cost “county residents millions of dollars more than is necessary,” Miller said.

Sterling Heights sued in Macomb Circuit Court to be excluded from any repair bills, saying that since Miller’s predecessor, former Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, did not invest or properly maintain the sewer line, the county — not communities — should pay for repairs.

A judge dismissed that part of the complaint earlier this week but city officials issued a news release saying Sterling Heights will continue pressing its case that the county, not the 11 communities served by the sewer line, should be financially responsible.

Miller’s spokesperson distributed estimates of $36.5 million in shared bond costs for 16 communities who are not part of the Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District if the Sterling Heights lawsuit continues and cost of the work is shifted to the county, rather than the MIDD.

The MIDD includes Chesterfield Township, Clinton Township, Fraser, Harrison Township, Lenox Township, Macomb Township, New Haven, Shelby Township, Sterling Heights, Utica and Washington Township.

The sale of bonds to refinance $90 million of existing debt was expected to save the MIDD $3 million to $3.5 million over the 25-year repayment, according to Miller. Instead, it could cost an additional $3 million to $10 million.

Topping the list of non-MIDD members who would have to shoulder Sterling Heights’ share would be Warren, $14.3 million; St. Clair Shores, about $6.5 million and Roseville, $3.8 million, according to county officials.

“I have negotiated with the mayor of Sterling Heights, I have pleaded with him,” Miller said.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319