Ann Arbor officials temporarily suspend footing drain program in response to neighborhood concerns
Courtesy of CDM Smith
City Council Members Marcia Higgins and Margie Teall, both Democrats representing the 4th Ward, brought forward the resolution Monday night to take a closer look at the effectiveness of the FDD program after several residents have complained in recent months.
The resolution passed 11-0.
The city now plans to pause FDD work in two areas that are referred to as "Glen Leven" and "Morehead" while city officials thoroughly review the program.
Morehead is the city's designation for the larger area including the Lansdowne neighborhood. Glen Leven includes adjacent areas north of Scio Church Road in the same general vicinity.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Over the last 11 years, about 2,200 homes in Ann Arbor have had FDD work done and sump pumps installed to divert flows away from the city's sanitary sewer and instead to the stormwater drainage system. About 300 more homes were working through the process before Monday.
Ann Arbor officials credit the FDD program for helping to ensure the city's sanitary sewer system doesn't become overwhelmed during storms or lead to sewage backups in basements.
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.
"Some of them feel they should be allowed to opt out, and they feel this is not a correct way for the city to proceed," said Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward.
"They had dry basements, never had water in them, and now they're asked to participate in something that may cause them to get wet basements."
While the FDD program appears to have worked in other areas of Ann Arbor, Mayor John Hieftje conceded Monday night there's something different about the greater Lansdowne area.
"There's more to look at here because of the historic drainage issues," Hieftje 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 has held multiple meetings in recent weeks to talk with residents about the FDD program and larger neighborhood flooding issues. Higgins said there will be another community meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at Lawton Elementary School, 2250 S. Seventh St.
The City Council acknowledged when passing Monday's 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.
They also acknowledged communication between residents and the city needs improvement and vowed to have a weekly update posted to the city's FDD website.
While the program is suspended, city staff is expected to analyze issues related to the local stormwater system to improve stormwater drainage and conveyance, and address the existing surface flooding that residents are experiencing in those neighborhoods. The city's staff also is expected to hire one or more consulting firms to review and adjust certain aspects of the FDD program, including consideration of other means for achieving removal of footing drain flows from the sanitary sewers and a review of other technical issues.
Staff also is expected to investigate subsidizing the cost of equipment associated with improving homeowner confidence in the program and further study the "air gaps" provided for sump pumps, a feature that's described on one local resident's blog called "Ann Arbor Underwater."
The city also is planning to conduct a robust survey of FDD participants to find out more about homeowner satisfaction and the effectiveness of the program.
Craig Hupy, the city's interim public services administrator, said citizen-initiated footing drain disconnects still will be allowed during the moratorium.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
The program, which started around the same time as the FDD program, is intended to hold the sanitary sewer system harmless from new development.
The city selectively chooses the neighborhoods where it wants to enforce the FDD program and then gives homeowners notice of the steps they must take. For homeowners who want to opt out, there's a $100-a-month charge tacked onto their water and sewer bill.
The city's consultants estimate the average cost for the in-home FDD work and discharge line running to the street is about $4,118 per home. The homeowner contracts directly with the plumbing contractor, but payment for the work is entirely covered by the city.
Some residents have adamantly protested going through with the sump pump installations for fear their basements might flood. Some even have threatened to sue the city.
Hupy clarified the opt-out process, saying residents are given a 90-day notice to comply. If they don't, they're no longer eligible for city funding for FDD work, and they're hit with the monthly penalties, which Hupy said is a situation a limited number of homes are in right now.
"Some of those have been there for a number of years, so there is no time limit as far as we're concerned as a utility how long they remain in that status," he said.
City officials said in late August they were about 55 percent complete with planned FDD work in Glen Leven and 60 percent complete in Morehead.
Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, asked Hupy when he thought the FDD program might come to an end. Hupy said the five areas the city initially targeted were intended to be only the start of the program, which was expected to last "tens of years."
"Our last major backup was in 2000, so we're only 12 years away from the last major basement backup," Hupy said. "The five study areas that we started to tackle are only 50 percent of the identified problems. We have another 50 percent to tackle within the whole city."
Hupy added, "We're not quite 50 percent of the way through the issues. I would say we've done the easier 50 percent because they're clustered."
Anglin asked Hupy for his best argument why the remaining homeowners who have dry basements and no flooding problems currently would want to go through with the FDD work.
"Well, the case that is made is this is being done to prevent sanitary sewer backups," Hupy said. "And when we don't do this, we continue to have a risk of a repeat of a 1998 or 2000 event where we had hundreds of homes with sanitary sewage in their basements."
Hupy showed slides of the historic alignment of Malletts Creek underneath where homes were built decades ago near Lansdowne. City officials now argue the flooding that occurs there is partly the result of poor planning and bad development decisions of the past.
Hupy said the additional review work council is asking for likely will cost seven figures but it's already planned for in the city's capital improvement plan and will be paid for out of sewer utility funds. He said it will require getting a consultant hired and doing flow monitoring once rains come in the spring.
"It would require us replicating the monitoring that was done in 1998 and 2000 and looking at the actual impacts of the FDD removals in the system itself," Hupy said.
Hupy said the city has been monitoring footing drains as they have been disconnected, including a certain sampling of sump pumps in various homes. From that, he said, the city has been able to extrapolate data about what kind of removals it's seeing throughout the system.
"But we haven't gone back and looked at it from the system down to see if we can confirm those numbers," he said.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.