(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 13, 2013)
There is a saying that when it rains, it pours. For some Ferndale residents that can be changed to “when it rains, it floods.”
With summer storms hitting hard and fast this year, multiple residents have had to deal with repeated basement flooding. For some the problem is when water comes through the foundation. For others it actually comes up through the drains.
Jewel Street was particularly hard-hit, with several homes in the same block suffering damage. “Water was coming up through the drain and the toilet. There was nothing we could do,” said one resident. “This isn’t just water leaking in, it’s coming up from the sewers.”
The floods happened at least four times in a two month period. Over Labor Day weekend they received 30 calls about homes and businesses that had water problems. One of the problems was a flood in city hall, most likely cause by a leak in their roof drainage system.
A group of Jewel Street residents began coming to city council meetings about a month ago. They’ve asked not to have their names published due to having pending insurance claims against the city, though video of the meetings is available on the city’s website.
The flooding caused water damage to floors and walls in some of the homes. Personal property stored in basements was also destroyed. One angry resident piled their destroyed luggage, comic books and paperbacks at the curb and posted a sign on a pole with an expletive directed at the Ferndale DPW (Department of Public Works). Others rallied on Facebook, sharing stories and organizing to bring an ever-increasing presence to council meetings.
Both residents and city personnel wanted answers. And while the issue was a contentious one for the residents, they worked together come up with solutions.
DPW Director Loyd Cureton took the lead in investigating the cause of the flooding. Though Cureton has decades of experience managing municipal water systems, he’d only been working in Ferndale for less than a year and was still getting familiar with the different areas of the city. He also did not have a good record to refer to about which areas had been more prone to flooding.
He and his crew set about their investigation. They tested sewer lines by filling them with water and checking the system for blockages. They jetted the lines just to be sure. And when flooding continued they sought the expertise of Giffels-Webster, an engineering firm. They came in with cameras and went through the pipes, creating a video that shows the interior of the drain pipes and lines them up with specific properties.
The result was a detailed look at the system.
“Most of this system is over 100 years old,” Cureton said. “It’s amazing how well it’s held up.” He presented the engineering findings at the Sept. 9 council meeting, showing what he had suspected from the beginning. The culprit: tree roots.
He began his presentation with an aerial shot of Jewel Street, with trees so thick that many rooftops were hidden beneath them. Then he moved on to the video, which shows that the line is in solid shape, but that several of the homeowners’ lines were full of roots. The soft tips of root systems can be seen coming out of the lines and into the main drain.
Cureton contacted each homeowner that’s had problems and discussed their specific line issues. He said that in almost all of the flooding cases there was a clear correlation between roots and line damage on the homeowner’s side, and the flooding.
“Not all are resolved yet,” he said. “There are going to be a handful that we don’t have an answer on our end or theirs.”
One such property owner had been baffled, since he’d had his line professionally checked. Both his assessment and the city’s video match up with the fact that there are no roots in his line. However, the city found that his next door neighbor’s line was full of roots, possibly causing problems that sent water back up his line as well.
“I give Lloyd a lot of credit because he did step up and address this. He called when he said he would call, sent people out, did these tests. But my line is clean as a whistle, and this ruined a good piece of our summer,” he said.
In cases where the homeowner’s lines are clear, the city’s insurance may be able to cover costs. Mayor Dave Coulter informed the resident and the public that homeowners can file a claim with the city up to 45 days after an incident. City staff is also available to help homeowners make claims on their insurance policies if the problem was indeed on their end of the system.
Moving forward, the DPW is taking several steps to prevent future floods. They are going through their lines and removing the root tips, such as the one seen in the videos. They’re also reaching out to homeowners who have problems with their lines and letting them know. This includes not only the ones who complained, but others who did not.
Cureton is also working on a procedure that would ensure regular maintenance of the system through the whole city, with emphasis placed on areas like Jewel Street where there are many old, thirsty trees.
The resident with the clean line said he hopes this will solve the problem, but adds “The city should do more to consider how to prevent this in the future. The system is overwhelmed, and I understand they can’t change it. But they can do things like stop water runoff from businesses, promote more green space, encourage rain barrels. If we all do a little it can make a difference.”
He also noted that with the two most recent storms there was no flooding. “I think they’re on the right track,” he said. If it continues though, he and the other residents will undoubtedly be back.
For information on how to reach The City of Ferndale, including the DPW, see their website at http://www.ferndalemi.gov/.