Lawsuit Filed Against Firms in Michigan Sewer Line Collapse

FRASER, Mich. (AP) — A lawsuit has been filed against three companies in connection with a sewer line collapse north of Detroit that cost $75 million to repair.

Officials say the Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District filed the lawsuit Tuesday and seeks to recoup losses from the Christmas Eve 2016 collapse in Fraser.

The broken line along 15 Mile Road caused a football field-sized sinkhole. Three houses had to be condemned and the major road closed.

Macomb Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said earlier this year that an assessment determined the sinkhole was caused by human error that allowed the quick release of waste and water into a sewer line, fracturing the pipe which drew in sand and created a void in the surrounding soil.

The 11-foot (3.3-meter) diameter pipe is 60 feet (18.2 meters) below ground and serves nearly 500,000 county residents. Officials say it has since been repaired with 4,000 linear feet (1,219 linear meters) of new pipe.

The pipe collapse caused a sinkhole which grew to 100 feet (30.4 meters) wide and 250 feet (76.2 meters) long. Nearly two dozen homes were evacuated and three houses later were condemned. The collapse had threatened to dump raw sewage into thousands of basements in the county through the broken pipe.

But the problem started in 2014 after a gate was closed to hold back sewage as crews performed pipe maintenance, according to the engineering assessment. The gate was supposed to be gradually raised to allow a slower release of the water and waste. Miller said that wasn’t done properly on a number of occasions, which she attributed to “human error.”

“When the workers leave the pipe, the operator then has to raise the gates,” she said. “The protocols for raising these gates call for the flow to be released maybe over several hours.”

On at least eight different occasions the water was released faster.

“One time in particular, they released the flow in about seven minutes,” Miller said. “When that happened ... you had a tsunami of water — a huge water hammer — that traveled down the pipe” and hit a wall.

The Associated Press left messages seeking comment from the companies named in the lawsuit: Jay Dee Contractors, Inland Waters Pollution Control and Metco Services.

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