Lawsuit filed against firms in Fraser sewer collapse

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
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A sinkhole buckles this Fraser home in late Dec., 2016. A lawsuit has been filed against three companies in connection with a sewer line collapse in Fraser that cost $75 million to repair.

Fraser — A lawsuit has been filed against three companies in connection with a sewer line collapse in Fraser that cost $75 million to repair.

Officials say the Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District filed the lawsuit Tuesday and seeks to recoup losses from the Christmas Eve 2016 collapse.

The broken line along 15 Mile caused a football field-sized sinkhole. Three houses had to be condemned. The sinkhole displaced more than 20 families during the holiday and closed a section of 15 Mile on the border between Fraser and Clinton Township for nearly all of 2017, officials said. 

Macomb Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said earlier this year that an assessment determined a quick release of waste and water into a sewer line fractured the pipe, which drew in sand and created a void in the surrounding soil.

A comprehensive examination determined that human error was the cause of the 2016 Christmas Eve sewer collapse and sinkhole along 15 Mile Rd. at Eberlein in Clinton Twp., Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller announced Wednesday, January 9, 2019.

In December, Miller told the drainage district commissioners that "as a direct result of a contractor’s negligent failure to follow, and flagrant deviation from, the mandatory flow control protocols, at least eight water hammer and pressure surge events occurred in the MIDD, with major impacts in the direct vicinity of the catastrophic collapse of the 15 Mile interceptor on Dec. 24, 2016."

The water hammer and pressure surge events directly caused the collapse, Miller said.

“There was negligence on the part of the contractors," Miller said in the statement. "This is one of the reasons why you carry insurance. We think it is very reasonable to expect the insurance provider of these contract companies to cover the costs from these mistakes.

"We were hoping and willing to reach a settlement with the insurance provider, but they have not been willing to negotiate with us and have left us with no choice but to bring this lawsuit.

“These are good companies, but mistakes were made," she said.

Named in the suit are two general contractors, Jay Dee Contractors and Inland Waters Pollution Control, and a subcontractor that worked for both firms, Metco Services. All three companies were performing work in a pipe system operated by the Oakland Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District.

The Associated Press left messages seeking comment from the companies.

The suit alleges that on multiple occasions, Metco employees "overrode, disregarded and dangerously altered the mandatory flow control protocols and dangerously altered and disregarded the protocols, that included engaging in repeated manual overrides of the automatic release sequences, and operated the flow control system in a dangerous and unsafe manner, resulting in the water hammer and pressure surge events in the MIDD."

The draining system serves 11 communities in Macomb County. Macomb and Oakland arms of the Oakland Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District combine in massive underground pipes that runs between Schoenherr and Hoover roads, which carries the sewage to a treatment facility in Detroit.

The OMIDD board recently filed suit against MIDD, claiming that the OMIDD was not responsible for the 2016 sewer collapse.

Miller said the OMIDD suit is "very unfortunate" and they do not plan on filing a legal claim against OMIDD in the future, she said.

"The MIDD actually makes up two-thirds of OMIDD, so we would in effect be suing ourselves even if we did want to make a claim against OMIDD," said Miller, one of three commissioners on the boards of OMIDD and MIDD.

"Unfortunately, I was advised by the OMIDD legal counsel not to attend the OMIDD meeting in which the decision was made to file a claim against MIDD, otherwise I could have pointed this out and avoided this conflict."

The Associated Press contributed.

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