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Macomb County's Miller wants answers on Connor Creek failure during rains

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

St. Clair Shores — Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller is requesting an investigation into why the Connor Creek Pump Station in Detroit failed during last weekend’s thunder storms, leading to flooding in the area.

Conner Creek lost power during rainstorms Friday and into Saturday morning. Miller said in a Wednesday statement that she heard unconfirmed reports that backup generators did not automatically turn on, that gates outside the facility wouldn’t open and that Great Lakes Water Authority workers at the pump station didn't try to turn on generators or break open the gates.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller noted Monday that an inspection of the 1968 Chapaton Pump Station in St. Clair Shores has turned up issues with the site's electrical panel and one of the station's three pumps. Her team is already working on plans for a fix, she said.

“Why weren’t they already on station? Everyone knew the rain was coming,” Miller said.

While no pump station is designed to handle six to seven inches of rain, she said, water authority officials need to identify any human errors that contributed to the flooding.

"All the public wants is competency in government," Miller said, noting Macomb County is a member of the regional Great Lakes Water Authority. "That’s a simple ask — competency in government.  They want transparency, they want accountability and so do we in Macomb County.”

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department told Detroit City Council Tuesday that it intends to bring on an independent engineering firm to evaluate how the Conner Creek pumping station was operating and the conditions that existed when Detroit was hit with more than six inches of rainfall over a five-hour period overnight Friday and into Saturday morning. 

Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown said a separate investigation of issues involving the lower east side pumping station on Freud Street took place after heavy rains in 2016.

The Connor Creek pump station shutdown caused the Marter Pump Station on Jefferson Avenue at the border of Macomb County and Wayne County to be shut down in a bid to prevent more water flow from heading through the Jefferson Interceptor sewer toward the Connor Creek Pump Station.

It resulted in causing combined stormwater and sanitary sewage to back up in the sewer system that serves St. Clair Shores and Eastpointe, Miller's office said.

Navid Mehram, chief operating officer of wastewater operating services for GLWA, told The Detroit News this week that it's common for unanticipated operational issues to happen with an event of this magnitude. 

"There was a brief period early in the rain event on Friday where the Conner Creek Pump Station experienced a partial disruption in service; at no time was the pump station off-line," he said. "The GLWA team worked quickly to make repairs and the pump station was returned to full operational status in under one hour. Even with this partial disruption, at all times there were pumps running throughout the system."

Mehram said a review of the incident has begun but more rain fell within 13 hours than typically falls during the entire month of June.

"...The system functioned to its design capacity, the amount and the intensity of rain received would have overwhelmed any combined collection system," Mehram said.