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GLWA board of directors investigating Freud and Conner Creek pumping stations

Flooding in a Detroit neighborhood on June 26.
Courtesy of Cam Mills
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Severe storms led to major flooding in Metro Detroit in late June, and caused massive damage to homes and businesses in the region. There were also problems with two pumping stations on the city's east side: Freud and Conner Creek.

The Great Lakes Water Authority operates both of those stations. Now, GLWA's board of directors is conducting its own investigation, separate from management, into the issues with the two pumping stations.

According to GLWA CEO Sue McCormick, the power went out at the Freud station for reasons they have yet to determine. She says Freud has a generator, but was not equipped to provide power during the storm. Freud directs its overflow to Conner Creek, which was having its own issues, including losing power. 

McCormick opened Wednesday's board meeting with a request for an independent investigation.

"We have indicated that in addition to our internal review, which has already begun, we will request that our board of directors conduct an independent internal review so that we can have an accurate picture as possible of what happened and how it will shape future operations and systems. We would expect these reviews to take 60 to 90 days," she said.

Brian Baker is the representative on the board from Macomb County. He said people in Macomb County have questions about what went wrong.

"The amount of rain we got was above design standards, but we do have to review if the flooding could have been lessened by having all the pumps operating, right?" he said during Wednesday's board meeting. "I do think it needs to be independent and transparent and just as importantly, I think the board needs to oversee the process separate from management."

Baker said a closer look at the operational side of things is crucial: power outages, generators, and redundancies are all a part of that. But he said what's just as important is assessing communication with impacted communities.

"The goal is to take a critical review of all of our facilities and our staffing to see... where [improvements] are needed, and also in our operational response, in our advance notification to the communities, as well as management's role in planning and their response to the events. I think we need to do a better job overall notifying communities and the public in advance and certainly all those residents and businesses who were who were dramatically affected by the flooding," he said. 

The board went into a two hour closed session, where it discussed the issue with the authority's general counsel, Randal Brown.

John Zech, representative from Wayne County and chair of the board, said an ad hoc committee would be formed to begin the investigation. The committee, he said, would be made up of himself, Baker, and Gary Brown, the head of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the representative from the city of Detroit.

"We’ll immediately go to work looking at this issue on the engineering as well as the legal aspects of this storm event, and we'll do this in as transparent a way as possible so that we can share this information with the public," he said.

The committee's first step in the investigation will be to hire an outside engineering and legal firm to assist with the review.

Earlier Wednesday, 12 Grosse Pointe Park families filed a lawsuit against GLWA and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The lawsuit claims officials knew about "infrastructure deficiencies," and knew that the pumping stations would not be fully operational during a major storm event. It also says the officials should have anticipated the severity of the storms on June 25-26. The plaintiffs claim they each lost at least $300,000 in property damage and "extreme emotional upset and anguish."

GLWA's general counsel, Randal Brown, provided the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"Yesterday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer requested that President Joe Biden declare the June 25-26, 2021, rain event a major disaster. GLWA supports Governor Whitmer's request for federal aid to provide residents and businesses in the impacted areas with the resources to rebuild after the floods. Seeking federal aid is the appropriate way to address this unprecedented event. With regard to the lawsuit, GLWA has not had an opportunity to review it, nor do we comment on pending litigation."

The DWSD also declined to comment on the lawsuit.

So far, the city of Detroit has received over 24,000 notices of claim for flood damages. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has requested that President Joe Biden issue a presidential declaration of disaster for Wayne and Washtenaw counties.

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