Sinkhole disrupts holiday season in Detroit suburb

AP News
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Posted: Dec 29, 2016 11:13 AM
Sinkhole disrupts holiday season in Detroit suburb

DETROIT (AP) — A major sinkhole has disrupted the holiday season in Fraser, a suburb of roughly 14,500 people about 15 miles north of downtown Detroit. Roads have been closed and about two dozen homes evacuated after the Christmas Eve sewer collapse. No injuries have been reported but inconveniences are many as crews begin a months-long process of assessing the damage, making repairs and determining the cause.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On Saturday morning, there was what Fraser Mayor Joe Nichols calls a "failure" underground: A sewer line partially collapsed. That caused the ground to shift and open up, forcing people from their homes and closing roads. Officials say the resulting sinkhole is 250 feet long and 100 feet wide — larger than one in 2004 that caused a nearby section of roadway to cave in. Crews have been working around the clock since Saturday, trying to stabilize and secure the area.

WHAT CAUSED IT?

It's not yet clear. Nichols says determining why will be the priority of the Macomb County Wastewater Disposal District, which owns the sewer lines. That falls on incoming Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, a congresswoman who recently unseated longtime commissioner Anthony Marrocco after a contentious campaign. Nichols says Miller has had a representative "on the ground" and at every briefing since problems began.

HOW MUCH IS THIS COSTING?

Again, Nichols says it's too early to say. But he says it will be "a lot," given that repairs will take several months to complete. Miller's spokesman, Brian Baker, said the cost to repair the 2004 sinkhole was roughly $55 million, paid for by residents of Fraser and 10 other communities through their sewer rates. The average homeowner pays about $20 a year as part of the 30-year bond for the repairs, he said.

WHAT'S GOING ON WITH RESIDENTS?

Residents of 22 homes have been evacuated for the time being. Officials say they aim to get most of them back in their homes within two weeks, but three homes are considered unsafe and likely will need to be rebuilt. Nichols says city crews have winterized the evacuated homes and beefed up police patrols in the area to protect them. They also are working on creating alternate, temporary ways for people to drive to their homes. Nichols also declared a local state of emergency, which opens up the opportunity for county financial assistance to residents affected by the sinkhole.

WHAT'S THE CONNECTION TO THE 2004 SINKHOLE?

Neither Nichols nor engineering officials can say for sure. But it happened along the same major roadway, 15 Mile Road, in a neighboring suburb and is part of the same sewer line. Nichols says that will be part of the investigation, adding, "you naturally have to be concerned."

WHAT ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS?

Crews repaired a natural gas leak at the site of the sinkhole on Tuesday, after the gas line was hit. A day earlier, officials said sewage was pumped into the Clinton River to prevent flooding into residential basements. City and state officials say the discharge was a last resort and steps to minimize environmental problems, including skimming solid waste and disinfecting, are being considered.