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Macomb County

MCPWO Averts Sinkhole on Jefferson


A diver prepares to enter a manhole on the Murdock-Ballard Drain in Harrison Township.


Workers remove a sewer grate cover on the Murdock-Ballard Drain along Jefferson, south of Crocker in Harrison Township.



Video clip of a diver entering the Murdock-Ballard Drain in Harrison Township.



Call it sinkhole averted.

Routine maintenance and monitoring of a small pump station in Harrison Township eventually led to discovering a larger problem on the Murdock-Ballard drain that runs underneath Jefferson Avenue, just south of Crocker.

The Macomb County Public Works Office, along with a contract firm and assistance from the Harrison Township Water Dept., are making emergency repairs to a drain shaft today to prevent future problems. The work should wrap up this week.

“This was discovered because one of our maintenance guys noticed a small problem. The more we looked into it, the more we found. This is a classic case of routine maintenance nipping in the bud what could have become a major problem,” said Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice S. Miller.

The Murdock-Ballard is an underground storm drain that runs mostly east-west and carries stormwater from Harrison Township out to Lake St. Clair. The drain also carries water off nearby I-94, making its proper operation important to thousands of daily commuters.

Due to land elevations in the area, four pumps are in place near where the drain crosses under Jefferson Avenue. The pumps lift the water from the storm drain out to the lake. Due to high water levels in the lake, several feet of lake water has backed up into the drain, a relatively common occurrence. With the high lake levels in the drain, divers are being used in the drain to look for any other possible damage or other issues.

Upon inspection, crews determined that a number of pipes that fed into a manhole structure – were filled with sediment, had structural weakness and/or other issues. Water was running out of the structure at times, allowing the nearby soil to soften and a sinkhole was beginning to develop, adjacent to Jefferson Avenue. Left unchecked, the sinkhole could have spread to under the road.

Work is ongoing this morning to further assess the situation and correct the issues.

Miller ordered the work to be done under her emergency powers as the public works commissioner. A meeting of the Murdock-Ballard drain board will be held next month to further review the situation and to give final approval to any expenditures.

The pump station on the Murdock-Ballard was recently connected to the MCPWO’s computerized control system, known as SCADA. Data from that system helped to alert the maintenance crews to the initial issues.

“We will be adding pump stations around the county to our SCADA system. This step will allow us to have better information on what’s happening around the county. This is all part of our effort to institute a logical, reasoned asset management plan – rather than just relying on visual inspections, which had been the case for decades,” Miller said.