A Macomb County Circuit Court judge today dismissed a lawsuit filed by the city of Sterling Heights against the county that claimed the 2016 sinkhole in Fraser was caused by years of poor maintenance by the Macomb County public works office on the sewer that collapsed.
The ruling handed down by Judge Jennifer Faunce dismissed all claims by the city after Sterling Heights officials asserted that their residents should not have to pay for the extensive repairs needed after the 15 Mile Road sewer collapse.
“As we had stated from the beginning, this suit was misguided, as evidenced by the fact that not a single one of the other 10 communities involved in the MIDD (Macomb Interceptor Drainage District) joined Sterling Heights in the suit,” said county Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller. “While we appreciate and respect the right of the Sterling Heights City Council to investigate its legal options, we believe it was always clear that suing the county was not in anyone’s best interest.”
The $75 million in repairs will be paid almost entirely by municipal bonds, which will require 11 communities — comprised of about 500,000 residents — to pay off the expenses over an extended period of time. Because Sterling Heights produces about one-third of the sewer flow, their share of the cost will be $22 million.
“At one point, this suit had threatened the ability of our team to secure the financing to pay for this project,” Miller said in a statement. “It was only an emergency hearing on the case – in which Sterling Heights claims were also rejected – that allowed us to move forward and get the repair done last year.”
In addition to the long-term payments by Sterling Heights sewer customers, Miller said an additional $100,000 – maybe more – will be tacked onto the total to recover the county’s legal expenses in the case.
Sterling Heights’ claims of poor maintenance on the massive sewer line referred to the 24 years (1993-2016) when Anthony Marrocco served as public works commissioner. The sewer collapse and sinkhole erupted on Christmas Eve 2016, eight days before Miller took office.
The new public works commissioner offered a folksy statement of praise for two staffers who worked on the suit, Joe Viviano and Ben Aloia.
“They are two good Macomb County boys who not only have sharp legal minds, but are dedicated to their community. It is nice to see local talent trump downtown (Detroit) attorneys,” said the former congresswoman.
The communities served by the MIDD sewer are Sterling Heights, Fraser, New Haven, Utica and Clinton, Harrison, Shelby, Macomb, Lenox, Chesterfield and Washington townships, along with Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
Photo: Fox2 News screenshot