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Miller: 2016 Macomb sinkhole caused by "human error"

Fraser home falling into the sinkhole.
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio
A Fraser home falling into the sinkhole that opened up on Christmas Eve, 2016.

Human error.

That’s what Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller says caused the massive sinkhole in Fraser in December 2016.

Miller says a national expert has determined that operators working on an adjacent sewer about two years before that made a mistake.

Instead of re-releasing water at a trickle after workers were done re-lining the sewer, gate operators let that water go almost all at once.

“So when that happened, and they released the flow here in seven minutes instead of several hours,” Miller said. “You had a tsunami of water, a huge water hammer, that traveled down the pipe, [and] hit this wall. It was like a bomb went off.”

Miller says this happened several times, and the water hit almost exactly where the sinkhole opened up two years later.

Miller says the county will now file an insurance claim against the companies who did that work for the Oakland-Macomb Intermediate Drainage District (OMIDD) on behalf of ratepayers in the Macomb Intermediate Drainage District (MIDD), where the sinkhole occurred.

“And I believe if I’m that insurance company, one of those insurance companies, I would be sharpening my pencil. Because it’s clear what happened here,” Miller said. “Very clear.”

The Fraser sinkhole closed down a stretch of 15 Mile Road for nearly a year, and forced four families permanently from their homes, which were condemned. The final fix took about a year and cost $75 million.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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