By: Mike Martindale and Gordon TrowbridgeThe Detroit News
June 11, 1999; Section: Front; Edition: Final; Page: 1A
AUBURN HILLS — Water service is back for hundreds of Oakland County homes and businesses today, but orders to boil water will remain into the weekend. Sorting out who’s to blame for the crisis could take longer still. While workers in a 30-foot-long trench finished repairs Thursday afternoon — about 16 hours later than hoped — on the broken water main at the heart of the problem, representatives of the companies whose digging broke the pipe denied that they’d broken any rules.
For now, the key message for people in Rochester Hills, Auburn Hills and Orion Township is to continue boiling water used for drinking or cooking until notified otherwise.
Just getting the flow back will be a relief. “When you don’t have it (water), it seems you want it,” said Jill Samuelson, a Pittsburgh native visiting relatives in the area.
Business people were counting the cost. Edward Freij, owner of Freij Jewelers at Great Lakes Crossing mall, already has consulted an attorney about the losses. He estimates he’ll lose at least $10,000 for the two-day mall shutdown.
As repair crews leave the scene, lawyers, police investigators and corporate spokespeople are taking the stage in what could be a multimillion-dollar, finger-pointing contest.
Corby Energy Services, the Taylor-based contractor whose workers broke the pipe, spoke for the first time, through the director of a Lansing trade association. Auburn Hills officials have threatened legal action against the company for drilling without a permit, but Bob Patzer of Associated Underground Contractors said the company isn’t to blame.
Patzer said the company gave the proper notification to utility companies that it was going to dig along Squirrel Road near M-59. But Detroit Water and Sewerage, which owns the main, didn’t mark the path of its line with blue flags or paint, as required, Patzer said.
“He’s wrong,” replied James Heath, the utility’s assistant operations director. He said city records show the path was marked as required, and a representative of the utility was on the site in the days before the break to make sure there were no problems. Dispute over permit
Auburn Hills City Manager William Ross said Wednesday the company was in for legal problems because it failed to get a permit to work in a public right-of-way. But the city was less threatening Thursday.
Assistant City Manager Patrick Greve said a police investigator was checking on the permit issue. He said as far as he knew, neither Corby nor MCI Worldcom, the company Corby was working for, had the proper permit. MCI was moving a fiber-optic line to make way for a new highway interchange.
MCI spokeswoman Robin Halter said all was in order. She said the company sought permission to dig in state and city road territory back in 1996. The project was changed to involve only state right-of-way, she said, and the company got an extended permit from the state in November 1998, and a verbal extension on May 24.
On Thursday, Troy attorney E. Powell Miller sued Corby Energy Services and MCI WorldCom Inc. on behalf of a Rochester Hills resident affected by the loss of water service. Miller said the lawsuit would be extended to a class-action one naming affected residents and businesses. Millions lost
Those may be expensive disputes. Most city officials and businesses were hesitant to guess how much the five-day water crisis has cost, but between repair costs, businesses losses, lost wages and inconvenience for more than 100,000 residents and workers, the costs are likely in the multiple millions of dollars.
For a second day, General Motors Corp.’s Orion Assembly Center was forced to close because of a shortage of seats and other parts from nearby suppliers that were asked to shut down by authorities.
GM’s Buick City large car factory in Flint, with 1,400 workers, also shut down because of a shortage of parts from suppliers with plants in Auburn Hills and Rochester.
Auburn Hills asked DaimlerChrysler AG to send home early Thursday more than 11,000 employees at its Auburn Hills headquarters and technology center. Greve said the city asked the company to close because water use at the huge complex soaked up water from the rest of the system. Stores ordered closed
Other businesses were less willing to shut down. Auburn Hills city officials got a court order requiring about 140 businesses and other operations — including a church — to close their doors. City attorney William Hampton said contamination worries and the danger of fires without water to fight them prompted the extraordinary measure.
“I’ve been doing this kind of work 30 years and it’s the first situation like this I’ve seen,” City Attorney William Hampton said. “There are instances where not only the public but employees may be in danger.”
Greve said he wasn’t sure how long the city would enforce the order.
In Orion Township, Supervisor Colette Dywasuk said police were ticketing businesses that refused to follow city orders, but had decided against seeking a similar court order. Snell said Rochester Hills hadn’t considered such action. Blown gasket blamed
Thursday began badly. Just after midnight, workers thought they had the line repaired, but a rubber gasket linking a new 20-foot section of the pipe to the rest of the line ruptured. That meant starting almost from scratch.
The line was ready by 4 p.m., and crews hoped to open valves and restore the flow by early evening. Customers might see some silt or cloudiness in the water.
Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills and Orion Township passed out thousands of gallons of bottled water, and businesses that had hoped to open Thursday instead stayed closed or sent workers home early.
“At the water stations, we’re still seeing a fairly positive side of humanity,” said Rochester Hills Mayor Kenneth Snell. “But the tenor of calls to City Hall is not as positive as yesterday.”
Firefighters and others kept a constant line of cars moving through the driveway outside a Rochester Hills fire station on Walton Boulevard.
“I bet you never saw a drive-in fire department before,” cracked Dennis Andrew, deputy fire chief, nodding at motorists receiving their two gallon jugs of water.
Fire Chief William Thornton said residents had been cooperative and “really appreciative” but noted some also had been taking advantage of the situation.
“You see someone come in and then come back in a different car about an hour later,” he said. “A couple businesses in town requested several hundred gallons for their employees. We told them we couldn’t do that. This was only to help residents through the emergency.”
Andrew said residents showed up for water around 6:30 a.m. Thursday, a half-hour before the station planned to begin distribution. Firefighters and volunteers baked in the sun at a similar curbside effort at Rochester Adams High School.
City officials asked the Auburn Hills Church of Christ on Lapeer Road to close its doors until further notice.
“We had to cancel Wednesday night’s services but it is an emergency,” said Marsha Gilchrist, a church secretary. “We have city water and our own well, but pray things will be back to normal soon. We expect to have services back on schedule this Sunday.”
Detroit News Staff Writers Rene Wisely and David Phillips contributed to this report. How to weather the water emergency
People living in Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills and Orion Township should follow these guidelines. * People in Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills and Orion Township who have running water should boil it before drinking it or cooking with it. Bring it to a full, rolling boil for five minutes to kill any harmful bacteria. * Don’t stop boiling water until officials give the all-clear. Latest word was that the boiling order would stay in effect until Saturday evening, but residents are advised to continue boiling until told otherwise. * Don’t use ice cubes from automatic ice makers. * Household tap filters won’t stop bacteria. * Be aware of symptoms of bacterial infections: vomiting,
diarrhea, fever. If you feel sick, see a doctor. * The old, young and people with weak immune systems are especially vulnerable to such illnesses. * All unnecessary use of water — car washing, lawn sprinkling, etc. — is prohibited until further notice in effected areas. OU closed today
Oakland University will be closed today. For more information, call 248-370-2000.
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