Officials say "human error" caused worst sinkhole in Macomb County history

An official in Macomb County said expert findings showed "human error" caused a massive sinkhole in Fraser on Christmas Eve in 2016.

If you remember, the sewer line collapsed and a huge hole opened in the ground near 15 Mile between Hayes and Utica. The debacle caused several families to evacuate and several homes to be condemned. One has even since been torn down. 

"This sinkhole was really the worst [sewer] interceptor collapse, probably the worst infrastructure disaster, we have ever had in Macomb County's history," Public Works Commissioner Candace Miller said at the press conference Wednesday. The project, though, was completed ahead of schedule by nearly two years, and also under budget by about $75 million.  

Proud of the response, Miller still wanted answers and says a national expert from Denver was hired to do a forensic engineering evaluation. He looked at soil conditions, aerial views, photos and all sorts of data to come up with a reason for the sinkhole. 

"Here's the reason it collapsed: it was really human error," Miller stated. 

Two years before the sinkhole, Miller explained that a valuable and necessary project was done on the sewer downstream. For any sewer work, gates are opened and closed to hold back the water flow so crews can access the pipes. Miller says protocol was not followed, though, during this project when re-opening the gates and re-releasing the water back into the pipes. 

She says protocol says the flow should be released over several hours, and that at least eight different times the flow was released much too quickly. She says one time in particular, and the worst offender, it was released in only about seven minutes. 

She says that fast flow of water then, reaching the pipe area where the sinkhole eventually happened, "was like a bomb went off." You can hear more of a breakdown from FOX 2's Charlie Langton in the video player above. 

"We intend to get restitution for what happened here, through the insurance companies," Miller said, adding that claims have been filed. "I am very hopeful and I believe, if I was that insurance company, that I'd be sharpening my pencil. Because it's clear what happened here. Very clear."

"I understand there's mistakes that can be made; we're all human. But that's why you have insurance. So, we intend to pursue this claim."

She added that if a settlement can't be reach they intend to take the case into circuit court, specifically in Macomb County.