Long-awaited Rouge River sewer project completed

Photo by Daniel Heraty

CSO facility up and running
Dearborn Director of Public Works James Murray leads a group of residents around the new combined sewer overflow facility on Military Street Oct. 15. The city hosted an open house for residents interested in seeing the new building.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Residents will soon have cleaner water coming from the Rouge River.

The Combined Sewer Overflow facility on Millitary Street between Morely and Alexandrine streets, under construction since 2007, officially opened Oct. 15 with an open house.

The CSO facility was designed and constructed to capture wastewater from storms and heavy snow melts, greatly reducing overflow events, and eliminating untreated overflows into the Lower Rouge River.

The facility was necessitated after then-U.S District Court, Eastern District of Michigan Judge John Feikens prohibited waste dumping in the river and assumed control of the Detroit Water & Sewage Department after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources filed a lawsuit in 1977 against the DWSD.

Construction finally began on the caissons in 2006.

“We celebrate today the most successful of the caissons (retaining structures that allow water to be pumped out) going forward in Dearborn,” Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said. “This is a new technology, and a reasonable one.”

O’Reilly said the facility, which cost about $40 million to build, was born out of necessity during the 1970s and 1980s, when sewers in 21 locations along the Rouge River that had passed capacity flowed into the river, polluting it.

“Obviously, that concept that (the sewers) would be enough to make a difference was wrong,” he said. “All along the river where communities were dumping the raw sewage created a situation where the river became dead.”

Following the lawsuit, communities chose their own alternatives to dumping in the river. Dearborn chose a high-tech method, O’Reilly said.

The facility is one of five similar caissons to be located around the city, for a total cost of about $300 million, paid for by a three-mill property tax hike passed in 2004.

Four completed caissons are at the Dearborn Department of Public Works yard, 2951 Greenfield Road, Prospect Street west of Miller Road and Outer Drive north of Michigan Avenue.

James Murray, director of the Departement of Public Works, said in an email that the fifth caisson, at Village Road and Southfield freeway, remains in litigation since 2007, when, according to published reports, the contractor allegedly walked off the site, blaming faulty engineering reports from the city.

Murray said there is no timetable for the project’s completion.

The untreated water is captured in the structure, a round cylinder made of layers of concrete. The water is temporarily stored and treated with a diluted form of bleach as it enters the structure from the east and west.

Murray said the caisson is designed to store about six million gallons of water, which is discharged into the sanitary sewer system for treatment at the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant. He added that water would still be treated if the limit is exceeded.

Steve Mancini, CEO of Ric-Man Construction Inc., the company in charge of building the facility, spoke about the “headache” it’s caused for the residents.

“I really do appreciate the (residents’) patience and the cooperation,” he said. “I know there’s been complaints and we tried to address them as quickly as we could.”

Following the construction of the caissons, three new wetlands were created after construction of the facility led to the damaging of the original wetlands. He said many different kinds of animals were brought in, including frogs and turtles, as well as an assortment of trees.

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com.)