Officials split on who should fix Oxford sinkhole site

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Oxford Township – Oakland County and Oxford township officials huddled Tuesday at a massive sinkhole that formed when a culvert failed over the weekend, but could not agree on who’s responsible for repairing the collapsed structure.

A section of paved Wood Trail caved in when a corrugated metal culvert that moves water from Paint Creek under the roadway and the Polly Ann Trail fell apart. Thousands of gallons of water backed up at the break, eroding soil to the road surface. It also swelled over the creek bed on the western side of the sinkhole and toward homes farther upstream.

Wood Trail – which is used by many motorists as an M-24 north-south bypass through a subdivision – has been closed to traffic and the Road Commission of Oakland County and the Water Resource Commission have large water pumps moving the water through large hoses over the roadway.

On Tuesday, all pumps were in use and and water was gushing over the east side of the road back into the Paint Creek bed.

Officials disagree on who should repair the culvert break because the Road Commission of Oakland County owns Wood Trail but the 200-foot long culvert exceeds the commission’s 60-foot right of way. The culvert is about 20 feet below the road.

“We still can’t agree on whose jurisdiction this is,” said Township Supervisor William Dunn, one of several officials at the on-site meeting. “I think this is going to have to be fought out between the Road Commission and (the county) Water Resources Commission (office). The township doesn’t own the road or the culvert.”

Craig Bryson, a spokesman for the road commission, said water levels from the backup – which had approached neighboring homes off of Paint Creek, have dropped about four feet since Saturday. However, he added, at least six feet of standing water needs to be pumped out before workers can lower the level to below the culvert and determine how to resolve the problem.

“No homes have flooded, no one is in danger and there is no need to evacuate anyone,” Bryson said. “The challenge now is assessing the situation and to do that, the water level needs to drop more.”

Bryson said officials agreed Tuesday that before any culvert repair can be done:

--A survey needs to be done on the site to determine who owns what property.

--The State Department of Environmental Quality – responsible for Paint Creek – need to determine what permits are needed to do ongoing work.

--The Michigan Utility Notification Center needs to locate where utilities may be located in the impacted area

--Oxford Township is exploring ways to temporary disconnect water and sanitary sewer pipes that run over or near the damaged culvert.

Oxford Township Fire Chief Peter Scholz said he wants the damaged culvert repaired or replaced as soon as possible because firefighters and paramedics use Wood Trail to respond to emergencies.

“If we can’t use that roadway, it can add five to 10 minutes to an emergency response – that can be critical,” Scholz said. “Fortunately, it hasn’t presented a problem yet but it’s clear from talking to people today this is not going to be a quick fix. We are looking at probably at least 30 to 60 days.”

Residents on either side of the sinkhole have other roads they can use to get in and out, according to Sandy Keller, whose five-bedroom home and property border the sinkhole site.

“We’ve lived here for 15 years and never had any problems before – except a lot of people using Wood Trail as a cut-through to get home at night,” she said. “It can get pretty busy, like a mini-highway. They aren’t able to do that now.”

Weather this week – dry and sunny – has been conducive to pumping out the backed-up water but officials are concerned since rain is forecast later this week.

(248) 338-0319