Dearborn residents accuse city of 'repeated failure' over flood damage

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

For Dearborn residents like Joumana Aode, the sight of the flood damage to their homes following last weekend's storms is enough to demand change. 

The teacher joined a protest outside the city's police department Friday carrying a poster with an array of photos displaying the furniture and electronics ruined after as much as 3 feet of water rushed into her home.

"There are things we cannot replace," she said. "… We don’t want this to happen again."

Dozens of residents spent more than an hour demonstrating what they contend is a "repeated failure" from the city administration "to protect our homes, businesses and streets from floods." The call for accountability comes after rainstorms last weekend  caused basement backups in homes in the city and other Wayne County communities including Detroit and the Grosse Pointes. 

Joumana Aode of Dearborn displays photographs of her basement damaged by flooding last weekend as residents protested on Friday, July 2, 2021, the city administration's alleged failure to protect homes, businesses and streets.

The demonstrators called for an independent investigation into Dearborn's response, full compensation for any losses incurred, fair distribution of city services and extensive infrastructure upgrades.

'We want the sewage and flood problem to be fixed forever," Mohamed Sohoubah, a longtime resident who helped organize the protest, told the crowd.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared an emergency in Wayne county over the flooding, which also shut down multiple Metro Detroit freeways. The governor also requested the Federal Emergency Management Agency conduct a joint preliminary damage assessment with state and local officials to review damages and response costs related to the heavy rainfall and flooding. The request was granted by FEMA and is the next step in the effort to seek federal assistance.  

State and local officials hope President Joe Biden authorize federal help for cleanup efforts. 

Since the storms last weekend, residents on the Dearborn Area Community Members Facebook page have posted images showing flooded homes and criticized the city's preparedness.

Sohoubah, who owns many properties in the city, said he believes Dearborn leaders could have taken stronger action after similar flooding in 2014.

"We believe the city of Dearborn... they have been sleeping at the wheel for the last decade," he told The Detroit News. "There has not been major leadership."

In a statement on the city's website, officials said Dearborn's sewer system is designed to handle three inches of rain in 24 hours. The city received more than twice is much in six hours June 25-26. 

Meanwhile, a combined sewer overflow project the city has pursued was "intended to separate storm water and sanitary water, reducing pollution in the Rouge River, as mandated by the federal government. It was not intended to increase the sewer system’s capacity in order to prevent flooding."

Dearborn is exploring options to alleviate flooding, the city said, but "retrofitting the sewer system to fit today’s standards, if it were possible, would come with an astronomical cost. The ideal fix would cost roughly $500 (million), which would lead to a 110 percent increase in residents’ water and sewage bills."

In a statement to The News on Friday, Dearborn spokeswoman Mary Laundroche said the city "will be pursuing an independent review of our sewer system. Our initial assessment is that our sewer system and facilities did not fail, and acted according to their design standards."

5-year-old Elias Saleh (left) and his father, Ali Salem, hold signs outside the 19th District Court in Dearborn on Friday, July 2, 2021, as residents protest the city administration’s alleged failure to protect homes, businesses and streets from flooding last weekend.

Several residents who spoke out Friday shared concerns that alleged uneven distribution of services and a breakdown in infrastructure indicated mismanagement.

"We keep going through the same problems over and over again," said Mahdi Shukr, who lives on the city's east side.

Some who spoke at the protest complained about trash pickup delays, which could indicate a city that is "going down," Adeeb Mozip, another protest organizer, said. "And we don’t want our city to go down. We want the city to do its job."

Others wondered about the flood damage's lingering impact on community health.

Shayma Ghaleb, a lifelong resident, said her family's home saw at least several inches of water and an odor remains, raising concerns about bacteria.

"It’s already bad enough that people get overlooked that have so many different health situations," she said.

In her response to The News, Laundroche added "Our hearts go out to the thousands of residents who have been dealing with the impact of the historic rainfall that led to the devastating flooding."

"We have been right with them since early on June 26 and will continue to advocate for them and serve them with all of our resources," she said. 

Mohamed Sohoubah, organizer, speaks to a large crowd outside the 19th District Court in Dearborn as residents protested on Friday, July 2, 2021 as they believe city administration's repeated failure to protect homes, businesses and streets from floods.

Laundroche noted multiple crews from city departments had been deployed since early last Saturday, public works employees committed to forgoing assignments to remove flood damaged materials from curbs, and among "unprecedented moves, we have engaged other communities and a long stream of contractors to serve residents by removing the materials as quickly as is humanly and logistically possible ..."  

Laundroche said the mayor declared a local emergency as early as last Saturday, the City Council allocated $500,000 for the initial response, and the city has made available a form for residents to report flood damage and estimated losses so Dearborn can seek FEMA assistance and a federal disaster declaration.

"This is a substantial effort in itself, as we advocate for our residents at all levels of government," she said.

The city has also linked volunteers with residents needing help clearing basements, offered free dry ice, coordinated food giveaways and on Friday started distributing free cleaning kits, Laundroche said.

However, many who attended the protest Friday pressed for change in the city.

Shukr said he and other residents would no longer contend with slow or inadequate response from the city.

"I truly believe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back," he said.