Macomb County pump station inspection turns up 'some issues,' public works commissioner says

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

St. Clair Shores — Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller is vowing fixes after an inspection "found some issues" at a pumping station that helps prevent basement flooding in southeast Michigan. 

Miller on Monday noted a detailed assessment of the decades-old Chapaton pumps near Nine Mile was launched after intense summer rainstorms put a strain on the facility.

Miller, in a YouTube clip, noted that during an inspection of the 1968 pumping station, "we found an issue" with one of the pumps and her department is already talking about what it would take to fix it and what those repairs will cost.

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.

A capital improvement plan, she added, will be developed to prioritize the work.

All three of the pumps were running during heavy rain events in late June. Alarms were going off, the pumps were overheating and the building was shaking. But Miller said she doesn't believe those challenges contributed to basement flooding. The heavy rains hit Detroit and the neighboring Grosse Pointe communities particularly hard with basement backups. Some other sections of Macomb and Wayne counties were impacted as well. 

"We have found some issues. Nothing critical that's going to happen here immediately, but that's why you do inspections," Miller said of the pump. 

Miller said that the department is in the design phase for an alternative pump station next to the existing building.

A separate pump station, she noted, would provide a separate feed so "if we have an issue with one of these pumps, we have an alternative redundancy ready."

Miller's update on the state of the infrastructure in Macomb County comes after she urged an investigation into pump station failures in Detroit during the June rains. 

“After being critical of the Great Lakes Water Authority for not being proactive, we are being proactive with our own facility,”  Miller said. "No infrastructure can completely handle the kind of rain events we had in June and July. But when you criticize, you’d better make sure you’re taking care of your own backyard.”

The St. Clair Shores pump station, she said, has "become antiquated" and "we need to be prepared."

In the YouTube clip, Miller said part of the inspection also included a review of electrical panels at the station and "no surprise, we actually have found a couple of things."

"We're going to fix it. We find them, we fix it," she said. "Being very proactive is going to make sure that we don't have an issue when we need to run these pumps."

The three giant pumps inside the Chapaton Pump Station in St. Clair Shores were inspected by the pumps’ manufacturer, Fairbanks Morse, and an electrical contractor. The motors were rebuilt about 10 years ago. Each has 2,750 horsepower and requires 130 gallons of oil, according to a news release from Miller’s office.

Rainstorms on June 25 and 26 dumped more than 3 inches of rain on St. Clair Shores and Eastpointe. The intense combined flow of stormwater and sanitary sewage forced the pumps to operate at full capacity for extensive periods of time, officials said.

Rainfall in parts of northeast Detroit ranged from more than 4 inches to approximately 7 inches. Thousands of basements flooded in the Jefferson Chalmers area of Detroit and most of the Grosse Pointe communities. Electrical problems hampered the Freud Pump Station and Conner Creek Pump Station, both in Detroit.

The issues, Miller noted, caused the Marter Pump Station on Jefferson Avenue at the border of Macomb and Wayne counties to be shut down to prevent more flow from heading through the Jefferson Interceptor sewer toward the Conner Creek and Freud pump stations.

That, in turn, caused combined stormwater and sanitary sewage to back up in the system that serves the St. Clair Shores/Eastpointe drainage district.

“Chapaton became the last line of defense,” Miller said.

All three pumps at Chapaton began overheating while working at maximum capacity to handle the flow. Alarms went off, the building shook and a manhole cover on Nine Mile Road blew up in the air. Flow was diverted into the underground Chapaton Retention Basin and the Nine Mile Emergency Bypass.

Miller subsequently called for an independent investigation and operational audit of electrical issues and staff preparedness at Conner Creek and Freud, both overseen by the water authority.

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