In June 2021, four feet of murky brown water filled Pamela Eidt’s basement in Cornerstone Village, submerging her belongings, and creeping up the stairs.
The backed up sewage water ruined her antique furniture and sewing machine, clothes and shoes, a deep freezer filled with food, and her hot water tank, among other items. The extensive damage also required her drywall and ceiling to be torn down. Altogether, Eidt estimates that the flooding cost her $30,000 and $35,000.
“The water kept creeping up and up, and it finally got to a level of four feet,” said Eidt, 64. “It was covering the top of my washer and dryer and coming up the steps to the first floor.”
But the headaches didn’t stop. When it rained, Eidt’s east side home flooded again in July and into August. She joined a class-action lawsuit and applied for the city’s new Basement Backup Protection Program, which offers residents in 11 neighborhoods with recurrent flooding up to $6,000 per household in prevention measures. Eidt said she’s waiting to see if she qualifies.
“I really need this to stop because it affects my home value,” she told BridgeDetroit. “Not to mention all the headaches and the mess,” she added, “and all the pictures and everything that we lost in the flood.”
One year ago, heavy rainfall on June 25 and June 26 flooded the homes of thousands of Detroiters like Eidt as well as several other Metro Detroit communities. The flooding also left people and vehicles stranded on roadways and resulted in untold financial losses.
The devastation prompted a federal emergency declaration from President Joe Biden, allowing residents to apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Thousands applied for the federal help, while thousands more submitted claims to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the Great Lakes Water Authority. Others, like Eidt, also joined class-action suits.
But across the board, thousands are still waiting for assistance and answers a year later.
On the city level, payouts for nearly 20,000 claims received by DWSD will be determined by the findings of an investigation into the cause of the flooding.
“The timeline for our response to June 25-26, 2021, rain event claims has been pushed back to this summer,” Bryan Peckinpaugh, public affairs director for DWSD told BridgeDetroit in an email. “We are awaiting the results of an engineering study as well as investigations into each claim (some may be grouped if they are on the same street and served by the same sewer pipe),” he wrote.
If the cause of the severe flooding is found to be heavy rainfall, and not defects in the system, then the claims will not be approved.
More than 6 inches of rain fell in Detroit over the course of June 25 and June 26. During the rainfall event, several pump stations had issues that reduced their ability to operate at full capacity. According to state law, the city can be held liable if the flooding was 50% or more its fault.
But on Wednesday, the Great Lakes Water Authority, or GLWA, completed its own investigation, finding that the flooding was caused by the intense rainfall, and not system failure.
“The report concluded that heavy and historic rainfalls exceeded the design capacity of the wastewater system, making surface flooding and basement backups inevitable,” GLWA said in a Wednesday statement.
The water authority itself received approximately 24,000 claims, interim GLWA Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Coffey told BridgeDetroit. In the next few weeks the authority expects to make decisions about the claims.
More than 6,000 other residents submitted claims to FEMA and are still waiting to hear back. A FEMA representative told BridgeDetroit that applications might be pending because either the resident appealed FEMA’s decision and it’s being reviewed again, or the agency is waiting on the resident to send documentation.
In total, more than 67,000 residents filed claims with FEMA. Of those, 38,826 residents received monetary assistance from FEMA, for an average of $3,291 per resident.
Of the total applicants, 22,000 residents were denied. Reasons residents might be denied include that the damaged home was not their primary residence, the damage was insured, or there was insufficient damage to the home.
“All applicants have the option to appeal FEMA’s determination. Guidance for submitting an appeal is included in the decision letter each applicant receives,” a FEMA representative noted in an email to BridgeDetroit.
Eidt said she received $3,500 from FEMA and another $10,000 from flood insurance she had purchased a few years ago following severe flooding in 2016. But even combined, that money isn’t nearly enough to address the full damage caused by the flooding, she said, so Eidt is one of hundreds of Detroit residents that hopes to get relief from the legal system.
In the aftermath of the flooding, several class-action suits were filed on behalf of Detroit residents. Eidt is a part of a lawsuit filed by Detroit-based Dubin Law, PLLC and Liddle Sheets Coulson, PC.
The firms filed two lawsuits. The first alleges DTE was responsible for the loss of power to a critical pumping station. The second against the Great Lakes Water Authority argues only half of the pumps at the Conner Creek and Freud Pump Stations in Detroit were operational when the heavy rains fell, and there were a number of failures in the design of the local sewer system.
“We have been contacted by more than 3,000 homes and businesses seeking assistance for this flood,” David Dubin of Dubin Law, PLLC, told BridgeDetroit. “Although we are approaching the first anniversary of the event, these types of cases take longer than usual to litigate.”
Both cases are still in the discovery phase, with information and evidence being collected. The delay, Dubin said, is due in part to backups in the court system due to COVID-19 related shutdowns and the number of defendants.
“As there are so many individual rights that could be impacted by this case, it is important to make sure things are done correctly and everyone has an opportunity to exercise their right of due process,” he said.
Ven Johnson Law also has several lawsuits, representing around 500 people. The basis of those lawsuits is a Michigan statute that says municipalities are liable for damages caused by defects in their sewer system if they knew, or should have known about the defect, attorney Paul Doherty told BridgeDetroit.
Without a complete legal investigation and release of information, Ven Johnson said he can’t refute specific points, but said GLWA’s findings defy the logic.
“The idea that you have 16 storm pumps and only seven, maybe eight work, and that doesn’t make a difference is an outright fabrication. It’s just silly,” he said.
“Everything has been one-sided to date. GLWA hired experts that have done these reports – they don’t make the full report public, they put online a sanitized version of it,” he argued. “At this point, we have no way of knowing how valid these reports are, how accurate they are, do they consider everything?”
Brian Dailey, of Brian Dailey Law, who filed four lawsuits on behalf of approximately 185 residents also has doubts.
“They’re blaming it on an act of God,” Dailey said. “It’s what I expected. You know, when you go to school and you have a classmate that doesn’t have the homework – the dog ate it, right? The dog-ate-my-homework kind of strategy.”
GLWA, in its Wednesday statement, said it’s likely there will be more intense storms and at a greater frequency.
“While it is not possible to eliminate the chance of flooding given these circumstances, we are taking actions that can help mitigate the extent of the flooding,” it notes.
Since last summer’s flooding, GLWA said it has installed new equipment, reinspected 13% of service areas, and has been reaching out to governmental organizations to secure money for improvements to the system. The authority also said it is working with federal officials to secure funding for a flood risk mitigation study for southeast Michigan.
For all of the residents involved in lawsuits, it will likely be years before any legal resolution is reached.
Eidt hopes to eventually get a settlement that will provide enough money to finish her basement.
“But I won’t have enough to replace all of the items I’ve lost,” said Eidt, who has lived in the neighborhood for just over a decade. “Even now, when it rains, I am running down to the basement through the night because I’m so worried it’s going to start again, and I don’t want to go through all that again. It’s just exhausting.”