July. 29 – Days prior the rains in late June, Great Lakes Water Authority employees learned that electricity had been cut to a major pumping station in Detroit but did not tell their commanders, according to statements made to the board of directors on Wednesday.
As beforetime as June 22, GLWA employees learned that a third-party contractor had damaged an underground wire providing power from the Ludden substation to Freud’s pump station, but management was apparently not informed until June 25, hours prior torrential rain. CEO Sue McCormick said the information about the outage was found in the operator’s log at Freud’s pumping station.
McCormick said employees have notified power providers of the outage, and she added that this is standard procedure.
The admission was the first time the authority has admitted that its employees learned of a power outage, at some level, earlier than June 25. The authority previously indicated that the GLWA leadership was discovered on June 25, but DTE Energy retained the authority’s employees who previously knew.
“I am very disappointed that it took us a month… to discover that the GLWA staff, perhaps not the management, but the staff were aware of the power outage four days ago,” said board member Brian Baker.
The board members’ comments came following they accepted McCormick’s resignation.
However, McCormick argued that employees believed the pumping station could have handled the amount of precipitation originally predicted, which was much less than what actually fell on June 25-26.
“This is a systemic issue for local and regional governments: How do we protect the public from these extreme weather events?” She said.
Freud and Conner Creek pumping stations are responsible for pumping water away from Detroit’s east side, including the chronically flooded Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. Due to a power outage on June 22, Freud’s pumping station shut down five of eight pumps when it rained on June 25. Electricity was not restored to the plant until June 30.
The authority’s recent admission raised questions about what information was passed down the chain of command. Board members at Wednesday’s meeting expressed frustration with the failure of communication between employees and management.
Board member Jay Quadrozi asked to change the personnel procedure if it resulted in the failed notification between employees and executives.
“It is inherently incredible that this information has not been passed on,” said Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage.
On Wednesday, the board also approved a contract with attorney Jeffrey Collins and engineering firms AECOM and Applied Science Inc. Flood investigations. Baker asked Collins, a previous US attorney and appellate judge, to focus on pumps, power supplies, excess power, procedures, and personnel.
DTE Energy said it helped the Detroit Department of Public Lighting address the outage, which the utility company said occurred when a third-party contractor collided with an underground wire and damaged a cable and duct leading from the Ludden substation to Freud.
DTE maintained that Freud was still present in the Detroit Public Lighting Department’s electrical system. Freud is one of 40 remaining sites that must be transferred to the DTE system under Detroit’s 2014 agreement with the company.
GLWA serves Detroit and 126 other communities in southeastern Michigan, and leases infrastructure and facilities from the City of Detroit for at fewest another 34 years. McCormick is GLWA’s first president, overseeing 40% of the state’s water customers, or 3.9 million people.
Earlier in the meeting, the Great Lakes Water Authority formally accepted McCormick’s resignation following weeks of fallout over the way the authority handled rain and flooding in late June.
The board said it would discuss the possibility of appointing an interim leader prior a conceivable vote on the appointee on August 3. 11 sessions. Board members estimated that the process of selecting a unused and enduring CEO would likely take at fewest six months.
The Detroit News first reported Tuesday about McCormick’s plan to leave power. The decision comes following severe flooding in late June and earlier this month destroyed thousands of homes in Detroit as well as near Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and several Gross Point communities.
On Tuesday, McCormick faced questions from the Detroit Council in response to Monday’s report by The News that revealed power outages at Freud’s pumping station in Detroit went unrepaired for three days prior the “1,000-year” rain event on June 25.
McCormick said Wednesday that she had been considering retiring for about a year and a half but had delayed the decision because of the pandemic.
“Now, as we approach the rebuilding and return to the office environment this fall by those who have been working on flexible working arrangements and given all that we accomplished during the first five years of this organization, I think the time is right,” she said.
Brown said McCormick has built “a shocking crew that’s more than enough” and one can get ahead in the meantime. But he said something needs to be done soon with more rain expected this week.
“Personally, I want to understand that someone is responsible,” Brown said.
McCormick said McCormick has been doing a tough job and has done a pleasing job in the job. “You were the one who was competent to grip that power for the first five years, and I think we owe you credit for that,” he said.
The Water Authority was formed during Detroit’s historic bankruptcy following months of talks between regional officials. It began its self-reliant regional operations in 2016 divide from the city of Detroit but signed a 40-year lease to control DWSD treatment plants, water mains, and sewage interceptors for $50 million annually.
On Wednesday, members of the public weighed in to resign amid frustration over more flooding earlier this month.
Tyler Beethhauser warned the board that he would “chase them” until the issues with GLWA’s infrastructure were fixed. His home sustained about $19,000 in damages.
“Sue McCormick, I don’t accept your resignation because you need to repair this,” said Bethhauser of Gross Pointe Farms. “This is not accountability. Disengagement is not accountability.”
Residents of nearby Grouse Point Park – one of the areas served by Conner Creek and Freud pumping stations – sued for flood hurt on the grounds that officials should have been more prepared.
Detroit received more than 25,000 flood claims linked to rainstorms on June 25 and June 26 and more than 33,000 overall for those divide events and rains on July 16, DWSD said Tuesday.
GLWA estimates it will cost $250 million to further improve the pumping stations on Freud Street and Conner Creek. The agency said it plans to spend $1.7 billion over the next five years for water and sanitation improvements in the state, including $285 million for next year.
City and regional officials were generally confident about the coming amid news of McCormick’s impending departure, with many indicating it would create unused opportunities for the massive water system.
Detroit Major Mike Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller released statements prior the afternoon meeting.
In a statement on Wednesday, Miller said McCormick’s decision to step down was “the right thing to do.”
“GLWA now has an opportunity to conduct a nationwide search for an operational expert who can get the most out of existing infrastructure assets and support for the investment needed to position our region appropriately for the coming,” Miller said. “The self-reliant investigation is likely to disclose other management failures, which will need to be addressed in the coming.”
Dogan also noted that this was the “right time” and wished her well.
“I think it was a pleasing decision today. I think it’s the right thing for everyone,” the mayor said.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said the resignation provides an opportunity to rebuild public trust.
“I look forward to working with GLWA board members to understand the system-wide issues that contributed to the recent flooding, and I hope the unused leadership will work with local leaders to craft a comprehensive infrastructure investment plan that gives residents peace of mind and confidence in GLWA’s aptitude to handle the storms to come,” he said. Evans.