State neglects water main break at Belle Isle as fireworks approach

 

The Sunset Point restrooms on Belle Isle have been closed because the state and city don't agree on who's responsible for fixing a broken water main. Photo by Michael Betzold.
The Sunset Point restrooms on Belle Isle have been closed because the state and city don’t agree on who’s responsible for fixing a broken water main. Photo by Michael Betzold.

Thousands of people watching the International Freedom Festival fireworks on Monday may have to share four Port-a-Potties on Belle Isle because the state and city of Detroit disagree on who’s responsible for fixing water main breaks.

The state signed a lease to take over management of the park from the city in February 2014, but the Department of Natural Resources park manager and the city’s water department each say the other is responsible for fixing a water main break that has closed the popular Sunset Point rest rooms.

The disagreement comes less than a week before the fireworks are expected to draw the island’s largest crowds of the year, particularly on Sunset Point.

Karis Floyd, park manager for the DNR, said the break occurred a few days before the Grand Prix on the first weekend of June, but the DNR didn’t discover it until sometime last week, when crews were disassembling the race course and adjoining infrastructure.

Last spring, Floyd said, the same water main broke in a different spot on that end of the island. But the break was discovered before the race area was closed off, and Grand Prix organizer Roger Penske helped the DNR fix it, Floyd said.

This time, Floyd said, the rupture wasn’t discovered until the DNR regained access to the west end of the island. On Monday, he said he hoped the city would fix the problem before the fireworks.

But Bryan Peckinpaugh, spokesman for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, said it’s likely the state’s responsibility to fix water main breaks.

“The City is performing a thorough review of the lease agreement for Belle Isle to make absolute certain which entities are responsible for water and sewer maintenance on the island,” Peckingpaugh said in a written statement. “Currently, based on previous interpretations of the Belle Isle lease agreement with the State, the Michigan DNR is treated like most customers of DWSD whereby they are responsible for the maintaining the plumbing on its property, in this case the water and sewer infrastructure on Belle Isle. While, DWSD is responsible for the water and sewer infrastructure leading up to and from the island. Once the City’s Law Department reviews the agreement, we will provide Muckraker with an update.”

When told of the DWSD’s response, Floyd disputed it. “Not according to the lease,” he said. “Not all the infrastructure” is the city’s responsibility, Floyd maintained, and not even all the auxiliary water lines on the island. But, he emphasized, water mains are the city’s responsibility.

Floyd added, “We’re not getting any response from the city, so we’re just going to fix it.” But he didn’t know if the state could repair the water main in time for the fireworks.

In the past, the city was quick to fix chronically broken mains because ignoring them can cause major problems.

Floyd said the DNR and the city “are going to have a meeting so we can get this straightened out.”

Floyd said the Grand Prix race did not cause this year’s or last year’s water main breaks. Water main breaks are a chronic problem all over the island, he said, and he estimates the lines are at least 75 years old.

The DNR leased the island from the city for $1 and has run it as a state park since. But this snafu raises major questions about who’s going to make critical repairs on the island, especially during the Grand Prix season. DNR chief Ron Olson has said the state can’t change anything about the pre-existing contract between Penske and the city, which runs through 2018. For two months or more, the western end of the island is partially or totally closed off; however, the DNR seems to cede control of that part to Penske, a billionaire. Floyd indicated they couldn’t even get there to discover the water main break. The Sunset Point rest rooms are not used during the race closure.

The larger question is who will pay the enormous bill to replace the aging water lines on the island when it’s no longer possible to keep patching up the system. Right now, neither the DNR nor the city will accept responsibility for fixing water mains.

Steve Neavling contributed to this report.

Michael Betzold

Michael Betzold is a former Free Press reporter and longtime area freelance journalist. He wrote Queen of Diamonds, a history of Tiger Stadium. He lives on Detroit’s east side.

  • disqusted

    If the city is being paid to supply water, then they need to step up

  • oldcarman

    THIS is the result of 40 years of Detroit leadership hiring political patrons instead of maintaining the city infrastructure. Yet these same incompetents expect the state to pay to rebuild the entire island. If that is true, then the sate should own it!

  • PeachPie

    Triflin. Congratulations e u.

  • Donald E. Hodge

    Do we really want the State of Michigan touching anything on Belle isle that has to do with water? I mean their record is so stellar. the work that was done in Flint was truly the highest of quality. Just ask the people that live there.

  • Donald E. Hodge

    Do we really want the State of Michigan touching anything on Belle isle that has to do with water? I mean their record is so stellar. the work that was done in Flint was truly the highest of quality. Just ask the people that live there.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      It would be union plumbers putting the same thing in the same spot.

    • oldcarman

      Or better yet, the former mayor, entire city council & water department would be the ones to ask!

  • Ziggy 75

    Frankly, with infrastructure as old as that in the Detroit area, it is outrageous that if there is a Water main break in one part of a main, (especially in a case where the main is in a confined area – as on BI) that the entire main should be inspected when the repair(s) are done, and if necessary replace the entire thing. Bottom line, however Just fix the damned thing already – split the cost either down the middle (DNR/city) or in thirds (city, DNR, & Penske) the middle -Let’s get the heck over our bad selves! If it were a state park on the UP, it would be fixed before it was broken.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      The mains ate the cities responsibility.

      Stuff in the UP is on wells you dope. Lol you have racist fantasies that are in no way related to the real world. There are no UP parks wgere they run city water to the entire tens of thousands of acres. Thats hilarious.

      The better conspiracy is black union detroit workers want to make a power move and flex on the state.

    • oldcarman

      Even Penske or Gilbert can’t afford to rebuild the Detroit infrastructure, nor should they! All the money the state is throwing at Flint, they could buy Flint, move it 30 miles up I-75, and start over for less money.

  • Ziggy 75

    Frankly, with infrastructure as old as that in the Detroit area, it is outrageous that if there is a Water main break in one part of a main, (especially in a case where the main is in a confined area – as on BI) that the entire main should be inspected when the repair(s) are done, and if necessary replace the entire thing. Bottom line, however Just fix the damned thing already – split the cost either down the middle (DNR/city) or in thirds (city, DNR, & Penske) the middle -Let’s get the heck over our bad selves! If it were a state park on the UP, it would be fixed before it was broken.

  • Carol Rhoades

    Last year the Coast Guard Station did not have safe drinking water. Maybe the whole island should be evaluated for safe drinking water?
    Because the Grand Prix race was the reason the broken main was not found, I think Penske should pay for any damage to the island as a result of not detecting the problem. His obsession with getting the fountain to work for his race photos may have caused too much pressure for the system? I noticed the fountain was closed on Monday. Is there a link between the water pressure for the fountain and the main break?

    • javierjuanmanuel

      No. Thats not how pipes work. They were designed to handle what is there.

      This site has some crazed people, with hairbrain ideas.

      They fail because they are 1920s, 1950s era stuff that wears out. It needs constant attention.

      • oldcarman

        And since CAY, NO money was spent to replace or update any infrastructure. Duh!
        If it hadn’t been for Penske AND the state, Belle Isle would be a cesspool of garbage, vermin, & violence.

  • Judi Blueye

    Welp, they got what they paid for. 1$ I say make the state pay. Ultimately we will pay for it with our tax dollars.

  • James Eaton Tyler

    That’s outrageous! There isn’t even a functional water fountain at the bath house at the beach, the bathrooms there reek of urine, and theres no running water to rinse the sand off your feet. It’s an island surrounded by the world’s largest supply of fresh water, yet the government is too incompetent to even operate a public beach properly. God forbid there was a fire on the island! Do the hydrants even work? Beyond disgraceful!