SJ Attorney Plays a Key Role in Fraser Sinkhole Finance Resolution

Many of us have likely heard of the massive sinkhole that developed under 15 Mile road and Eberlein Drive between Utica and Hayes in Fraser, Michigan back on Christmas Eve. We all heard about the state’s declaration of a state of emergency a few days into the new year. What most of us likely have never heard is that it was a St. Joseph Attorney and his colleague who have acted as bond counsel and will close next week on a more than $126-million bond deal for the Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District to resolve the problem.

Scott Dienes has been a municipal finance lawyer since 1999, and he and his colleague, John Kamins at Foster Swift, are the bond counsel for Macomb in this emergency situation that has drawn national attention as just one example of the huge infrastructure issues which need to be addressed nationwide.

It was Christmas Eve 2016 when the sinkhole developed, estimated to be 100-feet by 250-feet, forcing the immediate evacuation of nearly two dozen homes. Fortunately residents from all but two of those were able to return on January 9th, but two homes were eventually condemned and had to be demolished in late March.

As a result of the massive sinkhole, roughly 13-million gallons of sewage were discharged into the Clinton River on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. The sinkhole was caused by the collapse of an 11-foot diameter sewer interceptor line buried some 45 feet below the surface. It had been originally installed in 1973 by the City of Detroit and was ultimately sold by the Detroit Water & Sewage Department to the Macomb district.

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The interceptor is a key service line for more than 600,000 people in Macomb County as well as more than 43,000 businesses.

Dienes tells me that the repairs have been a multi-step process with crews working around the clock since the drain first collapsed. A three-phase bypass pump system began on January 2nd and was completed by the first week in March allowing the process for permanent repairs to get underway.

On May 28th, drilling work on the shaft, repairing the collapsed sewer interceptor was completed as on-schedule construction crews worked more than 20 hours a day, 7-days a week to install 260 necessary piers which are 70-feet deep and 3-feet wide. Those are now in place. Those piers, filled with cement and steel beams will provide the walls to allow contractors to dig down the 60-feet necessary to replace the broken 11-foot in diameter pipe.

Now that drilling is done, the construction team is transitioning to an excavation of the 300-by-28 foot shaft down 60 feet — a process that will take about a month. It started the week of June 5th.

The first of the new pipeline segments is scheduled to arrive on site by about July 1st. A Texas firm was contracted to make the fiberglass polymer pipe which is expected to have a usable lifespan of up to 200 years.

Meanwhile, a concurrent inspection process has been underway on the total Macomb system, with about 20-percent of the pipes reviewed and reflecting no major problem areas elsewhere in the system to date.

Work is also underway to clean 3,700 feet of the pipe immediately east of the break under 15 Mile Road. As the pipe is being cleaned, a second crew is following along behind, adding grout to cracks in the pipe which will also eventually be lined with the polymer replacement pipe this summer as part of the repair process.

Ironically, as part of the repair project, it has been discovered that that same 3,700 foot stretch of the line is also in imminent danger of collapse, so supports have been added as the work continues.

The repair work is slated for completion by the end of September, with the target for re-construction of 15 Mile Road and other restoration work scheduled by the end of November.

Dienes and Kamins have been working diligently on the bonding which will finance the project. Repairs will be financed through the sale of tax-exempt municipal bonds and grants from the state and federal governments.

All eleven of the communities impacted by the sewer line will bear the responsibility of paying off the bond.

On Tuesday, Dienes will represent the drainage district for Macomb in closing the deal on $126,425,000 in bonds, including $78-million to refund bonds issued by the district seven years ago in 2010.

As a result of her work on the project, former Congresswoman Candace Miller who currently serves as Macomb County Public Works Commissioner was among about 40 officials including governors and mayors from all across the United States to participate in the President’s Infrastructure Summit at the White House on June 8th. In fact, she was the only Michigan rep in attendance and one of only six who spoke directly to President Trump in the State Room where she strongly suggested officials concentrate on underground infrastructure.

Southwest Michigan school districts and municipalities are fortunate to have nationally recognized bond counsel talent right here at home in the form of Scott Dienes who has offices at 728 Pleasant Street in St. Joseph, especially as infrastructure needs leap onto everyone’s radar with every passing day. His opinion is accepted in the financial markets, adding a valuable resource to the local talent pool. You can reach him at Foster Swift Collins & Smith at 269-408-9004.