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Posted on Fri, May 3, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

MDOT investigating I-94 roadway sinkage at site of Enbridge pipeline in western Washtenaw County

By Amy Biolchini

Editor's note: The spelling of interstate has been corrected.


Westbound Interstate 94 at mile 163 in Lima Township. MDOT is investigating a small sinkage in I-94 at the site where Enbridge directionally drilled underneath the road to install a new pipeline.

Courtney Sacco |

Officials have confirmed an investigation is underway into the source of a small sinkage in the westbound lanes of Interstate 94 in Lima Township at a site where a crude oil pipeline was recently installed.

The Michigan Department of Transportation was alerted to the situation about two weeks ago and has been investigating since, said Mark Sweeney, manager of the Brighton post.

The spot of the situation is directly above the site where Enbridge Pipelines Toledo Inc. had most recently completed a directional drilling project underneath both lanes of the highway.

“People were calling and saying there was a dip in the roadway,” Sweeney said. “Once (MDOT) saw the dip, we followed it back through the permits (to Enbridge).”

Enbridge is in the middle of installing a new crude oil pipeline - Line 79 - in northwestern Washtenaw County. The line runs from Stockbridge where it intersects with its source - the cross-country Line 6B - and goes to Freedom Township in Washtenaw County.

Line 79 is being installed parallel and adjacent to Enbridge's existing Line 17, which serves refineries in Detroit and Toledo.

Directional drilling is a common industry practice to install pipelines or other infrastructure lines that would otherwise interfere with roads, waterways or other sensitive areas. Drilling fluid - typically a viscous mixture of water and a polymer - is used to aid the drill bit’s movement through the ground.

MDOT has been in contact with Enbridge as a part of the investigation, Sweeney said.

“We are aware of the situation and have been working with the state to address it and ensure there are no public safety concerns,” said Jason Manshum, Enbridge spokesman in an emailed statement.

MDOT has not yet confirmed the source of the situation and is conducting ongoing tests.

“We don’t believe it was there before (Enbridge) did the drilling,” Sweeney said. “It’s something that’s out of the ordinary.”

Roadwork was last completed on that section of I-94 in 2010, when MDOT contracted for a mill and overlay project of about 5.5 miles of highway between Freer and Parker roads.

“There would not be settling from that project because it was only dealing with the surface of the roadway,” Sweeney said. “It would be surprising if anything that happened in 2010 would be affected there.”

Driving west at a speed of 70 mph, the dip is about 30 seconds past mile marker 164 just past a set of transmission towers that cross I-94 overhead.

“If you were standing on the shoulder - you could see a small bounce in the traffic,” Sweeney said.

That portion of I-94 is smooth and has few cracks or bumps. In the westbound lanes of I-94 between Parker and Freer roads, it’s the most noticeable disturbance in the road.

Driving over the sinkage in the freeway, feeling the car travel through the dip in the road only lasts for a few seconds. The eastbound lanes are not affected at this time.

“From an MDOT perspective, we don’t care how big or small it is,” Sweeney said. “We have to do some testing.”


Buried pipelines in western Washtenaw County. Lines carrying natural gas are in blue; hazardous liquid lines are in red. The hazardous liquid line owned by Enbridge Pipelines Toledo Inc. is marked in yellow.

Courtesy of the National Pipeline Mapping System

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Lake Trout

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

Very interesting. Washtenaw County Road Commission has been repeatedly requested in the past four months to repair both paved secondary and gravel roads that Enbridge has destroyed with their heavy equipment, also in Lima Township, but so far not one thing has been done to remdiate the conditions. I'm sure MDOT will get quicker results than WCRC and in the mean time, those of us paying taxes for road maintenance suffer with rutted, potholed roads that damage vehicles and cause further expense for repairs. Thanks so much WCRC and Enbridge...

martini man

Sat, May 4, 2013 : 9:39 p.m.

If we just flat out banned oil, or coal ,or nuke, I am sure all our problems would be solved. A few million windmills and a few million acres of solar panels will save us all. What a wonderful future awaits us. What could possibly go wrong with this plan ???


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

There are sinkholes in roads in Livingston County where Enbridge did the same type of directional boring.

Gyll Stanford

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:11 p.m.

My Dad was an excavation contractor and I've help perform this task of boring under roadways. The process is to bore the hole, insert the pipe as you extract the drill and grout the void. Theory says this works every time, reality says these are humans doing this task and there might be deficiencies due to many factors. A couple alternative is we stop using oil, split wood for heating our homes and drive horse and buggies. Block off lanes of every road this utility passes, install with open trench and pay more for the product. A patch can be put down filling the dip, charge the company responsible and we can all go on with our lives. This is not Three Mile Island.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

Agreed, since everyone complaining about this benefits from the oil pipelines, then they should be very willing to reduce their consumption to prevent more being needed. Or, perhaps they think the pipes should be levitated in place magically.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 12:09 a.m.

Gyll Come on around here there is a Three Mile Island behind every tree.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:34 p.m.

Yeah, we'll stop using oil. How about this? We hold these private corporations that make millions ( billions ) of dollars off of hese operations responsible for work that was done on the cheap. They are not doing this for the good of mankind. They are doing it to make money and pay huge dividends to their stockholders.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 5:09 p.m.

The Livingston Daily & Argus has reported today that new sinkholes have surfaced at Burkhart Road north of Grand River Avenue in Howell Township in the wake of a February pipeline-related boring accident: The report comes days after Howell Township officials estimated that damages to water and sewer lines breached in a directional drilling project by Enbridge in that area could be up to $1 million:


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

Thanks Amy for keeping this in the public eye. Now how do we get MDOT to keep on top of their projects. That was a sloppy job.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

How many other roads are going to deteriorate due to Enbridge activity? How is that going to be monitored and measured, and who is going to pay for that monitoring? How much will Enbridge's profits cost taxpayers?

Basic Bob

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 9:46 p.m.

Look what they did to Geddes Road just east of Huron Parkway. There's at least four sinkholes under the westbound lane.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.

This "small" dip is all of a sudden a concern of MDOT? Why don't they fix the I-94 bridge over Telegraph road in Dearborn? Cars practically go airborne. Seems that for MDOT, it's only a concern when they can blame someone else.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 7:27 p.m.

Amy, just because they say it doesn't make it so.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4 p.m.

The concern in this case is that this is an incident MDOT believes was not there before Enbridge did the work and could be indicative of a larger problem. "We don't believe it was there before (Enbridge) did the drilling," Mark Sweeney said. "It's something that's out of the ordinary."

Amy Biolchini

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

I did pose a number of questions to Enbridge yesterday about the work they did at I-94 in reporting this story. Jason Manshum, company spokesman, said he wasn't able to answer them immediately because the key players were busy in the construction of the project. I'll update the story should I receive more information.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

As a project manager - I know everything that is going on...Amy - this is malarkey-speak. They are - or should be, in contact hourly on these types of things. This is a big deal and internally their should be a lot of attention placed on it.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

I should have written project manager. Direct quote from company spokesman Jason Manshum: "Please understand that our project team is currently tied up with this issue and completing the project. As soon as I learn more from our project director and crew, I will let you know."

Linda Peck

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4 p.m.

The "key players were busy in the construction of the project" means they were still building it and could not be reached? I cannot make out what this says, Amy.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

The sky os falling! The sky is falling! Probably always there...another good way to extract more money out of them...I have driven all over the countryside where they have been working and have yet to see the 1.3 million worth of damage that the county is billing them for. In fact, many places are improved.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:17 p.m.

Seriously amazed anyone who actually lives near the current pipeline work would defend Enbridge. From the over-cutting of trees in the pipeline area(yes, their property, but still no visible effort made to minimize disruption of ecosystems & adjoining residential properties), to the serious negative impact to dirt roads (Lima Center between Trinkle and Dexter Chelsea, for starters), to huge work lights shining across acres of rural residential areas, to blocking traffic so the Enbridge heavy equipment could cross paved roads in the later afternoon stopping school buses and evening commuters, to noise from their 7 day work week that could be heard in the house in winter to the spill in Kalamazoo - the highway issue is no surprise. "Improved" is ridiculous.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 7:25 p.m.

mermaid 72, what you experienced on your dirt road is what you always experience on your dirt road every spring...nothing new here. Blame the fact that it is a dirt road and should not be dirt in the first place because the Road Commission can't or won't maintain it. Perhaps you would tell us which roads you are talking about?


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

Well, perhaps you haven't driven in ALL the places Enbridge has worked. Where we live, the dirt roads used by their heavy equipment is a morass of mud and ruts when it rains, and practically impassable at times. Countless trees were cut down, wetlands ruined by supposed horizontal boring, andfarmers fields and state lands torn up. Please tell me how that improved our county lands.... do you work for Enbridge?


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3:38 p.m.

You're actually defending this company?! I guess more than just the ground sunk.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

By the way, people can gripe all they want about the pipeline going in, but unless you are actively trying to save on your use of oil then there is nothing to gripe about. Our overuse is why it is there in the first place.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

From the story (1st paragraph): "Officials have confirmed an investigation is underway into the source of a small sinkage in the westbound lanes of Intestate 94 in Lima Township at a site where a crude oil pipeline was recently installed." Are you saying there are 94 people in Lima Township nicknamed the "Intestate 94" who do not have a will? What does this have to do with a crude oil pipeline? I'm confused.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

As of now, they are still without a will on the home page.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3 p.m.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the confusion stems from a typo I made. It's been corrected to say "Interstate 94."

zip the cat

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

The dip in the road started at the same time they were installing the pipeline. I drive it every day and its getting worse as time goes on. They have put there pipe under lots of paved roads in this county but this is the only one to my knowledge that has caused a dip in the road. Where was mdot when they were boaring under the road you ask? Probably the same place they were when they paved that section of road in 2010 at night. It rained almost every night when they were paveing the road but they kept on doing it anyway. They put a coating of tar on the old road so the new asphalt will stick to it when laid. Last time I checked tar is oil based and does not mix with water very well. Only time will tell


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

At the risk of getting further slaughtered, there are MDOT truck's all over this site on a regular basis. Further up the line near I-96 had a chance to observe a bald eagle acting not to happy they were tearing up the land. Now in my neck of the woods here in Western Washtenaw, I do notice the deer running more often (particularly this winter when they had their huge lights up to work at night) during times we haven't usual encountered them, and also this year huge amount of Turkey's (we always have them) however they used to be further down the road right where the pipeline work is being done.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

Where was MDOT during the directional drilling? They are supposed to be inspecting during the construction under their roadway. I find it disturbing that they had to 'follow' the permits back just to figure out it was Enbridge.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:10 p.m.

Nicholas,really? Even I would have known who did the drilling when given the location. MDOT should have known. 'Private projects like this need to have their own hired professional engineers on staff to provide oversight.' And when you find out they did have their own engineer you will complain that their engineer can't be trusted. MDOT should have someone inspecting ONLY when the work affects MDOT roads. NOT every private property project.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 5:01 p.m.

Agree...the article indicated they had to go look up the permit to see what was going on...That ain't good.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4:40 p.m.

MDOT has very limited resources. Private projects like this need to have their own hired professional engineers on staff to provide oversight. Asking MDOT to provide professional engineers to manage private for-profit projects would be an abuse of taxpayer resources.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

Where are the anti-oversight and anti-regulation touts to tell us how corporations like Enbridge should be able to do whatever they want, regardless of the impact on our infrastructure, health, quality of life, etc?

Kai Petainen

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

In general, this state does a lousy job at enforcement when it comes to environmental matters. The MDEQ seems to represent the companies more than the people. The HRWC seems to act more like a political party (they were responsible for the city hall art) than an environmental one. I'm not against fracking or oil, or any of that 'bad stuff'. But, the state is rather irresponsible when it comes to enforcing anything -- and so I'm against fracking, big oil, a Fuller train station -- because enforcement sucks. Enbridge, Dioxane 1-4, an unsolved spill in the Huron River... we market ourselves as being enviro-friendly, but when it comes to enforcement... the state does a lousy job of getting the job done (or even bothering to investigate problems). Hopefully the MDOT will care more than the other agencies that are there to supposedly protect us...


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

you can thank John Engler for that. He dissolved the DNR (dept of natrual resources) and created MDEQ in it's place, but gave it no enforcement powers and ensured that it was "business friendly", code for looking the other way when businesses wanted to spend their cash here screwing up the environment. Republican code for raping the land is making it 'business friendly'.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

Gee, how surprising - Enbridge, the company that stood by for three days as alarms went off that signaled a pipeline leak into the Kalamazoo River, then lied about the amount of dirty tar-sand oil spilled, can add one more screw up to their long, long list of incompetence. This company should be put out of biz - or at the very least, all the top management fired and replaced with people who perhaps know a tiny bit about safety and how to do things right, not cheap. BTW, the XL Keystone pipeline is another Enbridge project destined to ruin the environment.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:33 p.m.

Heavily laden trucks will aggravate the condition and pulverize the pavement. The fun has just begun. What we need is heavier trucks to get the job done quicker.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:06 p.m.

Very long list: More oversight, more inspections are needed.

Kai Petainen

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:53 a.m.

Any comment from the MDEQ on this? Or is this yet another item that they seem to ignore?

Amy Biolchini

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

I did not approach the MDEQ for comment. At this time MDOT is still investigating and they said they've contacted Enbridge on the issue. Those are the two parties involved to my knowledge.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

Isn't this the same area we already have high incidences of accidents? If so then this dip is a big deal that stretch is like accident alley!

Amy Biolchini

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

I drove I-94 west yesterday to find the exact spot. When you're in either of the westbound lanes, you can feel your car enter the dip in the road about 30 seconds past mile marker 164, just a second or two west of where the transmission lines cross I-94 overhead.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

Voted down for inquiring the exact location? Didn't spout off about what a travesty or how Enbridge is messing with my quality of life, just asked exactly where this slight dip is?


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

It's what's known as "collateral damage".

Usual Suspect

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:06 p.m.

No, that's west of there, at the railroad.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:12 a.m.

It's not just Enbridge. When you have your sewer redone and they dig across your yard, despite even the most professional of contractors, there is sinkage.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

My sewer isn't hazardous liquids. AND doesn't have the history of screwing up causing major ecological consequences.

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

thinker, the difference in part is the ramifications. When I had my sewer line replaced many years ago the contractor left a small pile of back fill in my yard and told me there would be some minor sinking over a few days depending on rain. All I did was rake in the back fill. Pretty simple and cheap, the back fill was already on site. I am struggling to think that is the norm when drilling under a road too.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:40 a.m.

Maybe. This time, it was just Enbridge.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:59 a.m.

Couple of reasons why the ground is dipping, when they bored across the highway they either did not bore deeper than recommended causing compaction failure to the road, they used what is called a remmer which is a tool designed to widen the hole so that the pipe can slide through that was too big causing the ground to give where heavy traffic like big trucks drive over. Or they have leakage which is causing the ground to become wet and soft again loosing the compaction on roadway. This is not ordinary as they claim, it happens all the time when boring across long distances with a large pipe size and not being deep enough, in short they probably actually undermined the roadway. Either way the only way to repair is to dig a trench across the whole highway (open trench) use a sand a slurry mix and repack and refill trench to meet 95% or 100% compaction requirements. Will that every cost them, ouch.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:25 p.m.

Where does anyone say this is ordinary? To the contrary, MDOT says it isn't.

Chip Reed

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:22 a.m.

Don't worry. What could possibly go wrong?


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

And don't worry as Enbridge would never lie to anyone!


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:42 a.m.

My guess is the cost benefit analysis is complete!