After the Flint City Council bought more time to select a water source after a judge delayed a Monday deadline, it voted later that night to seek a two-year extension of a contract for its water supply.
The City Council was supposed to decide by Monday whether to approve an agreement backed by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to keep the city on the Detroit water system under a 30-year contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority or choose an alternative source.
The City Council told U.S. District Judge David Lawson in a Sunday emergency motion that if the court doesn’t dismiss or reinstate the case, the city would be “forced under duress to decide on a long-term contract” before it had an expert analysis.
So Lawson, who had set the original deadline, on Monday ordered expedited briefs by Tuesday from the city and the DEQ in response to the City Council’s motion, which included the argument that this is “not just a 30-year contract, it is a forever contract.”
Troubled by the length of the contract and the concern for water rate increases, among other issues, the council on Monday voted to ask for an extension with the Great Lakes Water Authority for two years rather than sign a long-term agreement. The resolution for the two-year option was made by Sixth Ward Councilman Herbert Winfrey, who balked at what the judge said in his ruling and argued it would be “irresponsible to sign” a 30-year deal.
Councilman Scott Kincaid warned against getting “locked into a 30 year contract.”
“We have the highest water bills in the country, and we are doing our do diligence to be able to hire an independent review and cost analysis for our system," said Kincaid. “We want to treat our water, we bought carbon filters and they have never been used. All of us just want to be able to make sure that we have a sustainable and reliable drinking source for the residents of the city of Flint.”
Last week, Lawson took the City Council to task for failing to move on the proposed Detroit regional water agreement.
“The failure of leadership, in light of the past crises and manifold warnings related to the Flint water system, is breathtaking,” Lawson wrote.
Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday complimented Lawson’s rulings during a separate event in Detroit.
“I’m not going to comment more other than the fact that it’s before a federal judge,” Snyder said, “and he’s been quite thoughtful and aggressive about saying ‘Let’s get something done.’”
Winfrey said he wanted time to work with a consultant to find the best water deal.
“We’ve been in mediation trying to create a better deal for the city and we want our own expert — because myself and the people of this city have become distrustful of the state — so what we want is to get our own consultant to look at the terms being put forward by the Great Lakes Water Authority and Karegnondi,” he said.
Council members said they were concerned about water rate increases.
“We don’t know what the cost might be to get water from KWA and treat the water ourselves,” said Kincaid, a mayoral candidate in an upcoming special election.
Kincaid also called for an outside study to help guide what represents the best option for a water source for the city.
“I think its reasonable for us to ask for a second opinion,” he said. “I don’t see us moving forward on a 30-year contract as is, though.”
Lead contaminated Flint’s water after Snyder-appointed emergency managers made a temporary switch in April 2014 to the Flint River for city water in preparation for a switch to the regional Karegnondi Water Authority. The state returned to the Detroit area water system in mid-October 2015 and has since used the Great Lakes authority’s treated water on an interim basis.
The Michigan DEQ sued Flint officials in late June, arguing that the Flint council was endangering the public’s health by failing to approve a long-term drinking water source. The council had told Lawson it needed more time to examine the best deal after Weaver and the state reached the Detroit water agreement in April.
Freelance writer Jacob Carah contributed to this report.