(WXYZ) — For the thousands of metro Detroiters still struggling after the devastating June floods that destroyed basements and belongings, money from the state was welcome news. Last week, Wayne County announced that Flood Assistance grants would be available to county residents. But now one homeowner is warning others to be careful what they sign when they request that state aid from the county.
The torrential downpours on June 25 and 26 flooded freeways and basements and cost homeowners across Wayne County millions of dollars in damage.
Residents were forced to throw out thousands of dollars-worth of family treasures, and had to sift through raw sewage to get their homes put back together.
Barry Dickson says more than six feet of water gushed into his brand-new home in the city of Grosse Pointe. Barry and his wife Sue also say the force of the water sent dirt pouring through their basement egress window. The water wrecked their new furnace and the equipment for Barry’s planned retirement project.
“It kind of got to me, that my dreams for doing some woodworking in my retirement that I’ve been assembling tools and such for years, that was part of the plans of the house when we constructed it — it’s gone,” said Barry.
He says they were stunned when their insurance claim for damages totaling more than $90,000 was denied.
They applied for assistance from FEMA, which did cover their furnace and some of the clean-up expenses. But that still left these retirees on a fixed income facing more than $74,000 in losses.
“We’re looking for any relief we can get from it, like most people are,” said Barry.
That’s why when Barry heard that the state of Michigan had allocated $10 million for flooding victims in Wayne and Washtenaw counties, he was hopeful they’d get some help. Wayne County received nearly $5.6 million of those emergency funds.
Disaster funding breakdown courtesy State of Michigan
But as Barry filled out Wayne County’s online application for that help, he grew concerned with a mandatory release in the application that you have to sign saying you won’t sue the county. It states: “I hereby release Wayne County from all future and possible damages, claims, or lawsuits against Wayne County which resulted from the June 25-26 weather events.”
“It just seemed a kind of backhanded thing to do,” said Barry. “They’re holding the money out that the legislature gave Wayne County for us flood victims, but you have to do this first, and hold us not responsible. And I feel quite certain that was not the legislatures intent when they made this money available.”
Barry says there’s no indication how much money — if any — you could get from Wayne County as part of the program.
“I don’t think they have any responsibility in it, but the investigation’s not done yet,” said Barry about the probe into the cause of the flooding.
“Even though the county might have good motives in doing so, it’s intimidating. A person who needs this assistance looks at the form, and thinks maybe I shouldn’t apply. That’s not what we want,” said former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who’s now a partner at Honigman Law Firm.
Schneider says the county already has governmental immunity from lawsuits, and questioned why they would add this release of claims.
“Is this the time for the government to put up an obstacle like this? Really, we should just be helping people, giving them the assistance they need when they desperately need it,” said Schneider.
A Wayne County spokeswoman told us in a statement that “A release of claims as well as an attestation of truthfulness is commonly required whenever funds are being transferred to claimants seeking funds of this nature. The document is an effort to protect the integrity of the process as well as the County’s interests.”
But Detroit and Washtenaw County, which also received the same emergency money from the state, are not requiring waivers or “release attestations.” They haven’t yet decided how they will distribute their share of the money.
And Barry says he’s also concerned that even if the county isn’t responsible for the flooding, if he signs away his rights on this form, he wonders if that could that have implications if he joined the class action lawsuit that’s been filed against the City of Detroit and Great Lakes Water Authority.
“In any civil litigation, sometimes parties are added, and sometimes they’re deleted. So if other parties are added and you’ve signed your rights away, that could have an impact,” said Schneider.
“It seemed the wrong thing to do. Very wrong,” said Barry.
The 7 Investigators did ask for an interview from Wayne County officials to ask more questions about why they’re requiring this release to be signed. They would not agree to talk to us on camera.
The deadline to apply for that state money through the county is Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Click here for more information.