The Macomb County Public Works commissioner is urging for an independent investigation of a Detroit pump station that reportedly failed and triggered a water backup chain reaction into Macomb County last week.
Macomb’s public works Commissioner Candice Miller says the county had to release 96 million gallons of chemically treated sewage Saturday from the Chapaton Retention Basin and the Nine Mile Emergency Bypass into the St. Clair River to prevent flooding amid heavy rains.
According to Miller, the Conner Creek Pump Station in Detroit, operated by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), suffered from operational failures during severe weather in the region last weekend, preventing it from pumping water necessary to avoid flooding. As 5-7 inches of rain fell from June 25-26, several Metro Detroit cities experienced significant flooding, damaging roads, cars and homes.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) says that its many Metro Detroit pumping stations did not fail, but rather experienced power outages which kept them from operating properly. MDOT crews had to bring generators to some pump stations along I-94 to get them back up and running, as a stretch of that freeway and surrounding areas experienced some of the most significant flooding amid the storms.
“The pump houses did not fail during this storm, the failure was getting power to the pump houses,” said MDOT spokesperson Dianne Cross. “Unfortunately the storms that came in Thursday and Friday, they took out power, and that is what we need in order to make those pump houses pull the water out of those low-lying freeways.”
But Macomb County’s Miller says that generators should have already been in place, in addition to a plan for pump stations, should severe weather cause a power outage.
“The rain was coming -- we all knew it was coming,” Miller said. “It appears there was a management failure at the Conner Creek Pump Station. They needed to have it properly manned. They needed to have a backup plan, like a generator if the electricity went out.”
According to Miller, operational issues at the Conner Creek Pump Station created problems for other nearby pump stations in Macomb and Wayne counties.
“The Marter Pump Station on Jefferson at the Macomb County-Wayne County border was shut down in order to halt further flow to Conner Creek. In turn, combined storm sewer flow backed up beyond the capacity of the drainage district that serves St. Clair Shores and Eastpointe,” a press release from Miller reads Thursday. “It forced Macomb County Public Works crews to discharge a total of 96 million gallons of chemically treated sewage from the Chapaton Retention Basin and the Nine Mile Emergency Bypass, both located at Nine Mile Road and Jefferson.”
“That was a necessary move,” Miller said. “We were that last line of defense. Had we not, the same kind of flooding experienced in Detroit and Grosse Pointe would have happened to thousands of homes in St. Clair Shores and Eastpointe.”
Officials say dozens of homes in St. Clair Shores still sustained basement flooding during the heavy rains, but the county’s actions reportedly saved thousands more homes from being flooded.
Miller is calling for an audit of the Detroit pump station to be carried out by a team independent of the GLWA to identify any operational issues at Conner Creek. The commission says Macomb County is also a member of the GLWA, so they “certainly have standing to ask questions.”
The Macomb County commissioner said Wednesday that she heard unconfirmed reports that Conner Creek’s backup generators did not automatically turn on, and that employees did not attempt to open the inoperable gates to the facility or turn on generators.
“No system is designed for 6, 7 inches of rain,” Miller said Wednesday. “But if there was any human error as well by not getting into the plant and flipping on the generator, or whatever happened there, we need to know, because all the public wants is competency in government. That’s a simple ask -- competency in government. They want transparency, they want accountability and so do we in Macomb County.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a state of emergency last Saturday amid the flooding crisis. She has since called for infrastructural improvements to prevent future flood damage. Right now, there are billions of dollars left to be sent out for infrastructure projects around Michigan, but politics in Lansing are once again slowing work down.
“Now we are seeing the cost of not fixing it,” Whitmer said Monday. “It would be overly simplistic to use one time dollars because this is an ongoing problem.”
As solutions are pending, Miller says it’s necessary to take action sooner than later to be ready for severe weather events in the future.
“Guess what happens in Michigan? It rains!” Miller said. “And it’s going to rain again, and the next time, we need to be better prepared.”