Repair work on the 21-mile Oakland-Macomb Interceptor (OMI) in Sterling Heights, Mich., has been moving along as planned for three years. That came to a halt earlier this month when a two-man crew found human remains after they climbed down into the sewer to start their morning routine of grouting leaks and cracks.
Macomb County Public Works and the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office teamed up in 2009 and purchased the interceptor from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. The joint district serves 833,000 residents.
The interceptor below 15 Mile Road is 57 feet below ground in this section. Two control chambers are used hold back sanitary flow so the crew can work in the space between. Sanitary flow is normally about 5 feet high but falls to a foot or a foot and a half about an hour after the chambers (gates) are dropped.
“Once it gets down to ankle depth, workers drop down through the manhole on 15 Mile Road to a staging platform about 4 feet above the bottom of the pipe so they can get into the interceptor,” says Gene Schabath, deputy commissioner for Macomb County Public Works. “They go about 20 feet away to a motorized raft about 8 feet across by 24 feet long. The raft is perfect. It helps the workers immensely.”
After the gates are lowered and the water level drops, crews have to clear off the platform. “As the wastewater is lowered, anything that happens to be in the area, settles on the platform,” says Schabath. “They clear off the staging platform before work each day.”
They got quite a shock when they cleared the platform on Wednesday, Aug. 15. The two-man crew from Inland Waters Pollution Control, the main contractor for the interceptor repair work, found 10 different “precisely cut” body parts, says Schabath. There were no skeletal remains, only chunks of cut up flesh.
The police have identified the remains as Caucasian and male, but have not identified the victim.
Schabath believes the remains were dumped sometime within the 24-hour period from prior to discovery since the crew was down there the previous day and didn’t find anything.
With 24 communities connected to the interceptor, there are several locations where the victim could have been dumped. “In Sterling Heights alone are 430 miles of lateral lines and 7,000 manholes,” says Schabath. “Any one of these manholes could have been used to dump the remains.”
The Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office collected the remains and crews were back to work the next day.
“It’s just bizarre that these parts would end up on the platform,” adds Schabath. “The timing had to be very precise.”