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Posted on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Ann Arbor flooding victim appeals to city's insurance board with $25K damage claim

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor resident Ellen Fisher awaits her hearing before the city's insurance board on Wednesday afternoon. She's asking the city to cover nearly $25,000 in damages to her home resulting from a March 15 flood.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Six months after her basement flooded during a major storm that rocked the Ann Arbor area, Ellen Fisher still blames the city for the nearly $25,000 in damages she incurred.

She believes deficiencies in the city's storm drainage system, coupled with having to go through the city's footing drain disconnection program, are responsible for the storm's unwanted intrusion into her basement, and she's asking the city to help cover the damages.

"My home has been flooded in 2000, 2010 and now in 2012 — all of which has been caused by the city's required installations and actions," she argues.

The city already denied the claim Fisher submitted for damages earlier this year, but on Wednesday she appealed before the city's insurance board on the third floor of city hall.

Fisher filed a similar claim against the city and lost back in 2010, but she didn't go through the appeals process then, so Wednesday's hearing was a new experience.

Surrounded by a handful of city officials in a small conference room, she had 15 minutes to state her case. After she spoke, city officials had a few questions and then the meeting adjourned.


In this photo from April, Ellen Fisher shows Ann Arbor City Council members a photograph of the flooding that occurred in front of her home on March 15. She said she was mandated to participate in the city's footing drain disconnection program, resulting in more water being added to an already inadequate storm sewer system. "We were flooded again just a year later," she said.

Ryan J. Stanton |

City Council Member Tony Derezinski and City Treasurer Matt Horning are the only two voting members of the board that will decide the outcome of Fisher's case. They declined to comment for this story, but they told Fisher they'd deliberate and make a determination soon.

Also in attendance for Wednesday's hearing were Sarah Singleton, the city's risk specialist; Senior Assistant City Attorney Bob West; Matt Warba, interim field operations manager; and a representative from the Hylant Group. The City Council in May approved a $252,000, three-year contract with Hylant for insurance brokerage services and risk management consulting.

Hylant Group, acting on behalf of the city, denied Fisher's claim for damages earlier this year, arguing "there is no defect in the city's system" and "the city has immunity in claims such as this, and this claim for damages provides no ground for avoidance of governmental immunity."

Fisher argued on Wednesday that the city, based on actions it has taken, actually has acknowledged problems with the stormwater and sewer systems in her area.

She pointed out the City Council this month voted to temporarily halt the city's footing drain disconnection program in her area, acknowledging there are special circumstances surrounding her flood-prone neighborhood. She lives at the corner of Wiltshire Drive and Churchill Drive, just off Scio Church Road, near Interstate 94, on Ann Arbor's west side.

Fisher also believes the fact that the city is embarking on an $822,700 analysis of its stormwater drainage system following the March 15 storm is another acknowledgement there's a problem.

"Failing to foresee and overcome these defects has been the cause of the flood damage to my home and is gross negligence on the city's part," she said.

Fisher told city officials on Wednesday she was giving them a chance to rectify the situation before resorting to expensive litigation, possibly involving many residents in a class-action lawsuit.

She's been in talks with local attorney Irvin Mermelstein, a Lansdowne resident who has hinted at the possibility of bringing a lawsuit on behalf of residents in situations similar to Fisher's.

"I have gone through great frustration and emotional distress over trying to get someone in the city to listen to my pleas for assistance," Fisher said. "I am at an end of my efforts to resolve this matter in an amicable manner through the channels available to me as a supporter of the community."

Fisher said she had hoped to be at Wednesday's hearing with her husband, who appeared with her before the City Council earlier this year, but he passed away in July.

The disconnect

Fisher said there have been flooding problems in her neighborhood for years, but since she was forced to go through the city's FDD program in 2009 her basement has flooded twice.

By disconnecting the home's footing drains and installing sump pumps, water is diverted away from the city's sanitary sewer system — a conscious effort on the city's part to avoid sewage overflows — and instead sent to the city's stormwater drainage system.

But in heavy rains when some neighborhoods have flooded and the city's stormwater system has been overwhelmed, some residents have complained the sump pumps the city has made them install are ineffective and water ends up cycling back in and flooding their basements.

"Under this program, the city required a sump pump be installed in my home, discharging eventually into the storm drainage system, which overflowed and caused flooding in my home," Fisher said.

"The city had notice from the flood of 2000 that storm sewers in my area were inadequate," she said. "To mandate further water being added to an already inadequate storm sewer system without studying the problem thoroughly shows gross negligence on the part of the city."

Fisher said she had two alternating sump pumps installed in her basement through the FDD program back in 2009 and then a third one installed more recently after the March 15 storm. She said she was nervous about adding a third one, but hopeful it actually might help.

When the City Council voted to halt the FDD program earlier this month, Mayor John Hieftje conceded there's something different about the area of the city where Fisher lives.


Mayor John Hieftje

Ryan J. Stanton |

"There's more to look at here because of the historic drainage issues," he said. "I'm in favor of taking a step back and really studying the problem because this area does appear to be different than the other areas, and so it is wise to go slowly here.”

The City Council acknowledged when passing the resolution that the FDD program's current focus area has encountered "unique, historical, creek-bed patterns and overland stormwater drainage issues" that have impacted the implementation of the program.

City officials also have argued the flooding that occurs in the area is partly the result of poor planning and bad development decisions of the past.

"Since the city approves and monitors development, it is ultimately responsible," Fisher argued on Wednesday. "Thus, the city is admitting to its past gross negligence."

She also believes the city's resurfacing of Wiltshire and Churchill Drives in 1998, just two years before her first flood, resulted in the virtual loss of the roadway as a channel for stormwater. She claims the city went forward with the resurfacing without first grinding down the previous road surface.

West questioned Fisher during Wednesday's hearing about the nature of how the water got into her basement each of the last two times it flooded.

She said water flooded into her basement through two city-required egress windows that were installed in 2008 and the mandated sump pumps installed in 2009.

"Through windows and through the sump pumps," she said, adding she watched water "bubble up" through the hole in her floor. "In fact, if I had not had that hole in the floor from the mandated sump pump, I would not have had water coming up in my basement there."

Fisher said she wasn't home during the flood in 2010. She said it was helpful that this year's flood happened during the day so neighbors could get pictures of the water rushing through the neighborhood, showing her street looking more like a river.

Fisher brought with her on Wednesday an itemized list of expenses she incurred because of the March 15 flood. That includes $650 for emergency flood response, $8,565 for water mitigation and "dry out services," another $105 to have her water heater cleaned and restarted, $33 for a new furnace filter, $8,544 for flood-proof floor covering and $6,628 to restore the basement.

She said she incurred about $10,000 in additional expenses for work designed to mitigate future flood damage, but she's not asking the city to pay for that.

That included significantly raising the height of her basement's egress window wells and improving the landscaping around the house to hopefully keep water away from the foundation.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:56 a.m.

ann Arbor has the most convaluted and neglected city infrastructure and incorporates so many "band aid" solutions it's a joke. Contractors are getting rich off of implementing ineffective solutions to infrastructure issues that should be corrected once and for all. All these millages that nickel and dime taxpayers strategically placed on the ballets with minimal information and peas to emotions and the city can't keep the crap out of the basements of the taxpayers they trick into paying more taxes.


Sun, Sep 30, 2012 : 3:48 a.m.

Are all those city employees in attendance getting "car allowances"? Talk about taking crap from city officials.

A A Resident

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 12:23 p.m.

Thank you for your persistence, Ms. Fisher, and also to the people who are considering filing a lawsuit. Hopefully, this will contribute to a permanent halt of the footing drain disconnection program, which mandates the replacement of an elegantly simple gravity-powered drain system, with one which requires electricity and is failure prone.

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 10:43 a.m.

The Mayor, in case he's forgotten, surely should remember the 1% for Art Tax on City water project he was championing, that looted funds from infrastructure. And he must remember he called people who spoke up against it ' haters'. AND he must remember blaming 'global warming' for the flooding of homes in the West Park neighborhood with that construction effort. I think if the Mayor wants to learn the causes of all these examples of poor City planning he should look in one place: the mirror.

Basic Bob

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 3:32 a.m.

Her homeowner's insurance doesn't cover the damage because basements are at risk of flooding. She needs to mitigate the risk, not threaten the city. It's still better than raw sewage in the basement, which is what happens when footing drains overwhelm the sanitary sewer.


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 11:08 a.m.

It sounds like there wasn't a problem before the FDD program.Maybe the contractor engineers who designed the subdivision should be held accountable for poor design of the drainage system. It seems if the city ordered some of these changes they should be the ones responsible.

craig matteson

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 2:25 a.m.

I was one of those who came to help the Fisher family that night. The entire street was flooded. Cars on the street had water half way up their side. The water in their basement was awful. And it came up through openings the city insisted they put into their home. They had NO flooding for decades. Since they changes, they were flooded twice. Ridiculous!


Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 9:51 p.m.

I think Mayor John Hieftje answered her question accurately before when he blamed "Man Made Global Climate" as the cause for these floods. I guess she will have to sue President Bush, he cause this flooding and the flooding of New Orleans during Katrina.

Angry Moderate

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 6:46 p.m.

Has the city given any explanation of why her first two claims were denied? It sounds like the consulting firm the city hired to deny our citizens' insurance claims have some explaining to do.

Basic Bob

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 3:38 a.m.

It was suspended because voters are irritated - political considerations. After the election, the program will resume for the same reasons it was started. Footing drains should not be connected to sanitary sewers because it causes rivers of raw sewage when it rains hard. The regular mud is bad enough.

Angry Moderate

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 7:17 p.m.

Thanks, Ryan. I read that, but did they explain WHY? If there is no defect in the system, why was the program suspended pending a study that is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

Hylant Group, acting on behalf of the city, denied Fisher's claim for damages earlier this year, arguing "there is no defect in the city's system" and "the city has immunity in claims such as this, and this claim for damages provides no ground for avoidance of governmental immunity." I don't know the reason for the 2010 denial, but I suspect it's similar.