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Posted on Fri, May 11, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor residents urge city officials to address flooding problems on city's west side

By Ryan J. Stanton

David Foster estimates about 40,000 gallons of stormwater flooded the basement of his family's home on Ann Arbor's west side the night of March 15.

"The window burst and surrounding water literally just poured in," he said. "The volume of the water that entered was massive, reaching literally 7 feet tall in certain areas."

Fortunately, Foster said, he and his family weren't home at the time. Had they been, he said, they would have been in the basement taking cover due to a tornado warning.


David Foster spoke before the Ann Arbor City Council earlier this week. He told council members he conservatively estimates about 40,000 gallons of stormwater flooded the basement of his family's home on Ann Arbor's west side the night of March 15.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I can't imagine being in the basement with my wife and children, taking cover, with water of that volume, magnitude and force bursting in and potentially coming right at us," he said. "We were also fortunate that the water did not reach a few inches up higher on the side of the house, otherwise it would have come in right through our bedroom and caused more damage."

Foster said the flooding, which occurred the same night a tornado ripped through nearby Dexter, caused severe damage, and now he's asking the city of Ann Arbor to look into the root cause of the problem.

He believes it's not a matter of "if" but "when" another similar storm will occur, and he says the city should be responsible for providing effective stormwater management.

"My request to the City Council is to acknowledge there's a very real problem that exists," Foster said, addressing the mayor and council earlier this week.

"My family has experienced it and so have my neighbors," he said. "So please study and examine the stormwater drain system and take action to ensure future circumstances like this won't occur."

Council Member Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, said she appreciated Foster and his wife, Katie, for coming to council with their concerns.

She introduced them to Craig Hupy, the city's interim public services administrator, before the the meeting. Hupy plans to work with the homeowners on the issue.

The Fosters, who have three children, are the second family from the 4th Ward to appear before the City Council in the last month complaining about flooding issues.

Ellen and Lowell Fisher, who live in Ann Arbor's Churchill Downs neighborhood near Scio Church Road and Interstate-94, shared a similar story last month.

Higgins said she can relate to the plight of some homeowners in her ward. She said her home's basement flooded in a storm in 1998, and that prompted her to run for council.

"We didn't have anywhere near the type of responsive staff that we do now, and I think staff are much more attuned to what's really happening out there," she said.

"And council members have done a good job when we see this happening and getting staff out there, getting cleanup out there," she added. "And what the city can pay for, we do."

The Fosters live on Mershon Drive near Delaware Drive in the general vicinity of what's commonly known as the Lansdowne neighborhood.

A neighbor a few houses down captured some of the experience from the March 15 storm on video, showing a 64-gallon city trash bin flowing down a water-filled street. Foster said his family's home is visible in the far right corner at the end of the video.

On the night of the storm, Foster said heavy rains filled the streets to a level that rendered them impassable by vehicles and the water buildup created a river effect in many areas of the neighborhood, while ponds formed in a number of yards.

"Storm drains were completely overwhelmed as water tried to navigate the landscape to find a home," he said. "On my property specifically, a river effect around the west side of the house successfully created a home. Unfortunately that home was in my basement."

Foster said water flowed up against his house and over the 6-inch wood blocks around his basement egress window — an egress that was required by the city, he pointed out.

He said the damage caused to his property was significant as the basement needed to be gutted and most of the family's personal belongings down there had to be thrown away.

Hupy declined to comment on what the city is doing to address the flooding problems. He said he wasn't aware of the specific circumstances surrounding Foster's property.

Higgins said she would love to see Ann Arbor's flooding problems go away. Unfortunately, she said, whenever there are egress windows involved, that seems to be a major issue.


Craig Hupy, left, and Marcia Higgins, center, talk with resident Ellen Fisher before the start of Monday's council meeting. Fisher is another resident who has been complaining about flooding on the city's west side.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"We had a very similar incident about a year ago further down on Delaware," she said. "So it's the area that we're looking at and Craig is actively involved, and the city has made a good response with the neighbors. It's not something we've taken lightly."

Higgins said she believes it still make sense to require basement egress windows, even in areas that are prone to flooding.

"Egress windows are for people's safety if they're living in their basement, and that usually means that there's a bedroom down there," she said.

Higgins said she gives Hupy and his staff credit for their work so far, but the city doesn't have an answer yet. Higgins said the staff is still trying to analyze the situation.

"We've had some issues and we're trying to work through them," she said. "Right now we really don't know what's causing it. It's not necessarily the footing drain because it's not coming up through the sewers.

"The night of the big storm, my street flooded," she added. "We had six houses that were in exactly the same position that we're talking about on Churchill and Delaware."

City officials called the March 15 storm a significant event. Data from the city's rain gauges show rain was falling at a rate of 2.4 inches per hour.

"How do you plan for something quite as unexpected as what we got that night?" Higgins said. "That storm just sat over our neighborhood for an hour and a half and rained and rained."

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.


Vince Caruso

Sat, May 12, 2012 : 12:12 a.m.

The west side has had flooding issues for many years and it seems to be getting worse not better. We have 1,200 to 1,500 homes and business at risk just on the west side with no real plan of attack. The Allen's Creek Watershed Group (ACWG.ORG) had worked to get a watershed study in the CIP for 2010 but was redefined for other uses in 2010 and seems to have been wasted. The majority on council do not want to know the extent of the danger. With global warming these large rains are the new normal. It was 5-6" rain that is not normal in the past but is happening all around SE MI now. 6"-8" rains are now common in SE MI. With 830% increase in our stormwater rates since they were started not long ago you would think we could get ahead of the problem! But the funds are being used for all kinds of programs: Forster, roads, tree cutting and planting, police, all kinds of non-stormwater ... It is a back door tax that the state is watching and not to happy about. The stormwater utility may go away with this type of treatment of the funds. Lets get the facts and let the facts guide our decisions, not intuition. And use the funds correctly, not so they can say 'they have not risen taxes'. Green Streets with porous pavements are a simple and cost effective solution we need to do more of on the west side ASAP. We're rebuilding the roads anyway lets do what other communities have been doing with funding help from the EPA to greatly reduce flooding and improve water quality.

mike gatti

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.

He declined to say what they are doing? How can he simply decline to say what they are doing? Who does he work for? The absolute arrogance.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 7:33 p.m.

I agree with the comments above that state the footing disconnect program is not a solution. Since I was disconnected nearly 10 years ago my basement has flooded twice. I've had to replace both the pump motor and the back-up battery. I had to spend thousands more last summer replacing a section of footing drain following a flooded basement. In January the City of Ann Arbor Footing Drain Disconnect Team sent out a survey on costumer satisfaction(sic) Ryan, I am wondering if you could nudge the City along to have them scale the results.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

Ryan, oops, I am hoping you can get the City to SHARE the results. PLEASE??

Andrea Zastrow

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 6:46 p.m.

These are photos collected from many neighbors who were home during the Allemendinger Park flooding incident. One of our neighbors is having three basement walls replaced because of the damage it did. You can see water coming up over the hood of one the cars that attempted to drive through it.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 5:41 p.m.

The problem here is our City Council is more concerned about art than fixing out streets, they are literally drowning our city!

Tony Livingston

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.

So speaking at a council meeting is how one gets a response from Marcia Higgins? I have emailed her twice and she does not have the courtesy to even acknowledge that she has received it. As far as Craig Hupy is concernec, good luck. He did nothing for our problem and just stopped answering. They try to look good when the media is focused on them but they have no real concern for the constituency at all.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 4:15 p.m.

Sorry to hear about the flooding problems but get ready for more flooding and more extreme events. You can review historical climate data for Ann Arbor here: Semi-pervious paving and less turf grass lawns would help alleviate flooding from extreme rain events.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 4:15 p.m.

The mayor said that this was caused by Global Warming several months ago. Let stop Global Warming by shutting off the power to Ann Arbor residents so that this doesn't happen again.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

Talk (i.e. responsiveness) is very, very cheap. It's like those customer service people that apologize for bad service, it costs nothing and it does nothing. Flooding basements has been around for a long, long time and the Democrats in city hall have ignored it for a long, long time. I suggest the homeowners affected consider legal action. The Democratis in City Hall are too pre-occupied with being politically correct to ever get around to solving this problem. It's time to stop being nice and asking pretty please, you'll just continue to be ignored.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Use several of the neighborhood parks to build deep retention ponds ( similar to the one at Arborland next to Hiller.s ), and fence them off.

Victoria Merinsky

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

Alan says it perfectly what many are common sense thinking! Yes oh how good it is they talk about it, thats about it too and settle out with residents some for way more less then the damage done, as for the 17 yrs living here it is a common known factor when buying a nice home and pay top ten in state highest taxes in this proper you oughta expect a good flooding or a major mold issue etc etc. It's like well thats ann arbor for you!' Grand Rapids has this problem badly when I lived in Grand Haven all the residents have a saying Sheiss floats down river and well ends up on Gh beaches waste and all even med waste. Cities need to stop raising taxes for 150 k art and consider updating the 100 yr old water management systems. Heck Hire my Dad he can fix this problem! Art is managing and updating infrastructure, not for city hall common area.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Good luck to Katie and David. This was a heartbreaking flood for this family, and many others. It is very sad to see a family's possessions laid out across the front lawn, to see what could be salvaged and what needed to be thrown away. This drain disconnect project was shoved down our throats, and the sump pumps installed by the city is not the solution. On March 15, there was widespread flooding in the Lansdowne neighborhood. After the storm, we got out and walked around that night, as the roads were impassable. Not only were the Mershon/Delaware and Delaware/Churchill intersections flooded, but the Delaware/South 7th intersection was a lake too. My 4th ward voters need to think about Margie Teall's lack of representation, and lack of communication. Please vote for Jack Eaton in the August primary. We need a representative who attends council meetings regularly, communicates with their constituents, and will diligently fight to be a voice of reason for our 4th ward.


Sat, May 12, 2012 : 3:30 a.m.

Jack Eaton's running in August Primary is good news. He would be an asset. If Margie Teall does run, then she will have the tacit backing of the current Democratic Party Machine which often discourages primary challenges of incumbent council members. Perhaps Margie will not run, thereby providing an opportunity for fresh City Council blood in the 4th Ward.

Tony Livingston

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

Marcia Higgins is no better. She simply does not respond and avoids anything messy that might mean representing the constituency and actually challenging city hall. If our council people don't represent us, then city hall can act as king as they have no competition.

Jack Eaton

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

A2Since74 - Yes, I am running for Council in the 4th Ward again. The City Clerk verified the signatures on my nomination petitions on May 2, which makes me eligible to appear on the August primary election ballot. What will be different this time? Hopefully, I will be able to communicate to 4th Ward voters that I will support different spending priorities. In each of the last two budgets, the City has reduced the number of police officers and fire fighter employed by the City. This time, they are actually considering closing two fire stations. Two years ago I emphasized the need to maintain and improve the City's infrastructure. Last year the City hurriedly spent $1.3 million dollars to move utilities (including storm water system) to accommodate the Fuller Road parking structure that had not yet been approved and which later was canceled. We have known about the flooding problems in the Lawton neighborhoods for years, yet those problems go unaddressed while the City throws money at the Fuller Road projects (a new Amtrak station is next). As the election last year of my friend Jane Lumm demonstrated, changing representation on Council can give voice to the concerns of ordinary taxpayers like you and me. My challenge is to convince Ward 4 voters that they can be better represented.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

May 3 article:


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 3:24 p.m.

Yes, here's a link to the article posted on last week. What will be different this time, you ask. Have you followed Margie's track record for no-shows at council meetings? Have you phoned her home, and received no reply, like we have? Have you emailed her, and received no reply, like we have? My family is ready for someone who will represent the 4th ward, and communicate with homeowners. Jack will get four votes from our home; two of our kids are voting age now.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

Is Jack Eaton going to run? He faced Margie Teal in the primary two years ago, and lost. What will be different this time around if he does run?


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 2:06 p.m.

Sump pumps are useless in this situation... especially since we lose power in Ann Arbor every time there is any kind of weather disturbance.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

If the storm sewer system is inadequate, I wonder how the city could have pinned their hopes on a footing drain disconnect? Lack of understanding of the problem or perhaps projects not yet complete?


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

As a home inspector, I can tell you that no residential sump pump of any kind will keep up with this amount of water caused by inadequate storm sewer drainage.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 3 p.m.

A water backup system will operate when power is off. Problem is the city will not pay for one - or even a battery backup - when we were disconnected 10 years ago. It seemed to me crazy that the city would not insist on and pay for a backup system when the sump pumps were installed. I was told since code did not require a backup system, the city would not insist on one, and therefore would not pay for one. Even if you do have a water backup system, the pain does not end with installation. One must pay for an inspection every few years. Also, there are parts which can fail on the water backup system, and it costs money to repair.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

This happened on the cities N. E. side. The city refused to acknowledge any responsibility until the home owners brought a lawsuit against the city.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

This is not a new issue, or a rare issue, or a matter of egress windows. This is a systemic failure that dates back at least a decade. When my family was looking to move to a larger house about a decade ago, the Realtor we were working with at the time cautioned us about the flooding in that neighborhood. I cannot imagine that in a city where those residents all pay plenty enough in property taxes there can be no reasonable resolution for them.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

Wasn't that huge storm water project underneath the the 'football parking lot' field at Pioneer supposed to help correct this flooding problem in the nearby neighborhoods?


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 5:33 p.m.

The project was intended to help alleviate flooding problems in the Allen Creek Watershed and improve water discharged into the Huron River. Here's a link you can copy/paste to read the specifics. The Lawton neighborhood experienced widespread flooding, as many have already mentioned. South 7th, by the Pioneer entrance to the "E Hall" wing was flooded on March 15, and not passable by vehicles. On the north side of Stadium directly across from Pioneer, many streets were flooded and closed intially after the storm hit, too - Snyder, and several of those smaller streets directly across from Pioneer were flooded and impassable by vehicles.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

I am a 42 year resident of Ann Arbor and 20 year resident of Lansdowne - and one of the first to have drain disconnect. This area has always had a flooding of one sort or another. My feeling is that before the drain disconnect project, the SANITARY SEWER SYSTEM could not handle severe storm water, and now the STORM SEWER SYSTEM cannot. The water is finding its way into peoples basement one way or the other. Whether there is a connection between increased storm sewar backup and footing drain disconnect I do not know. It is my impression that the Landsdowne areas which used to have problems before the drain disconnect project started do not have the problem so much (sanitary sewer backup on Morehead) , and those did not have the problem before now do (storm sewer backup in Churchill Downs). The basement flooding problem is just being chased from the sanitary sewer system to the storm sewer system, and the water is finding its way basements one way or the other. round. Rumor has it that for every house disconnected from the sanitary sewar sytem one new construction can be added. I would hope that the city has some kind of metric or calculation to show that for each new house or building there is adequate storm and sanitary sewer capacity.

Jack Eaton

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

Flooding in this area of town is not a new issue. In 2010, a Lansdowne basement was flooded with 70,000 gallons of storm water: The storm water system seems particularly inadequate in this area and needs to be addressed to protect the homes of taxpayers. The city needs to modify its capital improvement plan to make storm water systems a higher priority. Addressing problems such as this should come before building a new Amtrak station or spending on extending airport runways.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

Street paving and maintenance is another challenge on a par with flooding. The resurfacing of 7th done only a few years ago is shot for example.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

Yeah, we need basement egress windows to prevent all of those basement drownings we've been having. As usual, an Ann Arbor city council person totally and thoroughly misses the point. How about just doing something about the water?


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

Calling the rainfall on March 15 "a significant event" implies that this kind of flooding is something that happens once every 50 years or so. But I live on the street shown in that video, and I can tell you the street has flooded like that twice in the last 2.5 years, and my basement has flooded 3 times in that span. So something ain't right...


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

I'm telling Mike Holmes! He'll get all angry and go off on the city right on camera and then fix it.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:23 p.m.

Go Fosters! Keep this issue alive. It's not going to get better unless something gets fixed.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

Somebody should call Mike Holmes!!!


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

Many newer subdivisions have extensive drainage systems that are supposed to 'work' even if there is a '100 year flood' when rains falls at the rate stated in the article (2.4 inches/hour). These are often unsightly and require large detention pond areas and drainpipes. Our sub has this as well as a storm sewer system. For some of the older neighborhoods in Ann Arbor that experience flooding issues the storm sewer system is clearly inadequate and some other/additional drainage system is needed. I hope the City really responds to the plight of these west side residents and comes up with some infrastructure improvements that work...why else are the residents paying taxes????

Wolf's Bane

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

David Foster, sell your home and move to hire ground. The city council is incapable of helping you.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1 p.m.

Higher... !

Silly Sally

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 12:06 p.m.

I doubt that this was the only time water ever rose up during a rain, just the worst. So the city and residents, who would be in a position to notice and alert the city, had warnings and the city did nothing. Certainly the egress windows should have been required to have a higher wall around them, but just for this area. The city knowing that there is a problem should have suggested it, as should the insurance companies, if they even were aware. This silly city will probably pass a regulation requiring them everywhere, even for homes on the top of a hill. I wonder if city employees have ever come to this neighborhood duringa strong rain to see what is happening, where the water is orginating, and what should be done.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 11:24 a.m.

When you have a city covernment dedicated to " fluff " not function ...Good Luck.....

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 10:46 a.m.

This isn't about basement clean up. It's about fixing the problem so massive flooding is prevented in the neighborhood in the future. In the past all the City has done is dodge this issue with making 1940s style sump pumps the solution, and clearly that isn't working. We'll see if this is just another pre-election dog and pony show or if real change will come to fix the problem. But for whatever reason, kudos for the time being to Ms. Higgins and shame on her Council partner for the 4th Ward Margie Teall, who remains invisible, dodges calls and emails from her constituents and, fortunately for the voters of this ward, up for reelection in the Democratic Party August primary.

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, May 11, 2012 : 4:18 p.m.

But what about the extra money cost if Teall is elected again? You know, filling out the missing person reports, printing all the milk cartons with her picture, etc.? How can she serve is she's invisible and not to be found? Lol.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

Why is it fortunate for us in the 4th Ward that Margie Teal could be up for re - election in August? If she choses to run she will win. The 4th Ward had a chance to elect Jack Eaton in 2010, but he got defeated handily by Margie in 2010.


Fri, May 11, 2012 : 11:03 a.m.

Want to know how to make her show up? Start talking about 2% for art.