Wayne County looks favorably on regional water plan

Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Detroit — While officials from Wayne and Oakland counties appear ready to approve a proposal to create a new regional water authority that would split water and sewerage responsibilities between Detroit and the suburbs, officials in Macomb County continue to balk.

During a Thursday night meeting, Macomb County commissioners expressed concern that the 40-year lease, part of the deal, would tie their county to the authority indefinitely.

“We bind the county’s future, because my understanding is that this goes on forever… it goes on as long as there are bonds,” said Commissioner James Carabelli.

The Great Lakes Water Authority, hammered out in talks between Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and the city of Detroit, would consist of a six-member governing board: two appointments from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; one from appointment each from the executives of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb; and one appointed from Gov. Rick Snyder.

Macomb Commissioner Don Brown he wants the suburbs to have more of voice in the management of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department

“We are not treated as equals,” Brown said. “We are treated as a lesser party because the decisions are based on supermajority.”

Only one resident, Karen Spranger of Warren, spoke at the meeting, which she said wasn’t adequately publicized. The proposal, she said, is too confusing. “ I think it has to go back to the drawing board and more people need to be informed,” she said.

Macomb County’s board of commissioners is set to vote on the proposal Oct. 9.

The proposal received a warmer reception Thursday night in Oakland County where a vote is scheduled Oct. 8.

Oakland County commissioners Mike Bosnic, Robert Gosselin and Gary McGillvray hosted a meeting for Troy, Clawson and Madison Heights residents at the Troy Community Center. Around 30 residents were in attendance, including Troy City Council member Wade Fleming.

Gerald Poisson, the deputy county executive who has been in water negotiations since the beginning, said Oakland County supports the plan because it “protects suburban water and sewer ratepayers” while creating a future system that is “fair, affordable and sustainable.”

Rita Beard of Clawson said the plan sounded reasonable. “To me, I think they wouldn't be having these meetings if this was not the right thing to do," she said. "And they're not really talking about that much more money.”

Wayne County commissioners are expected to approve the proposal with a vote Thursday.

The creation of the authority — announced this month by Duggan and executives from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties — is contingent on approval by the Detroit City Council and commissioners from at least one of the counties. Council members approved the plan last week.

“The county executive is wholeheartedly in favor” of the creation of the authority, said Solon Phillips, Wayne County deputy chief of staff. “We do think it represents something that is in the best interest of all of the Wayne County taxpayers.”

The authority aims to maintain Detroit’s ownership of the system while giving suburbs more of a stake in its operations. Plans call for the city to lease infrastructure to suburban communities in exchange for a 40-year, $50 million annual fee and an annual $4.5 million payment assistance fund. The payment fund would be used to help pay water bills for people throughout southeast Michigan who can’t afford their bills.

Under the new plan the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department would be responsible for maintenance and service in Detroit with the authority handling responsibilities for about 3 million suburban customers.

The $50 million could be used only for Detroit water-related repairs, maintenance and improvements. The money would come from revenue generated by the water rates for Detroiters, as well as suburban users. Rate increases will be capped at 4 percent over the next 10 years, officials said.


Staff Writers Ursula Watson and Lauren Abdel-Razzaq contributed.

Upcoming meetings

Macomb County

All meetings will be on the ninth floor of the County Administration Building, One South Main, Mount Clemens.

■9 a.m. Tuesday: Finance Committee meeting.

■Noon, Oct. 6: Government Operations Committee meeting.

■9 a.m. Oct. 9: Public hearing before full Board of Commissioners. Final debate and vote.

Oakland County

■ 7 p.m. Monday: Novi Public Library, 45255 W. 10 Mile, Community Room, first floor.

■6 p.m. Tuesday: Southfield City Council Chambers, 26000 Evergreen Road.

■6:30 p.m. Wednesday: Farmington Hills City Hall gallery, 11 Mile and Orchard Lake Road.

■7 p.m. Thursday: Bloomfield Township Hall auditorium, 4200 Telegraph.

■6 p.m. Oct. 6, Lathrup Village City Council Chambers, 27400 Southfield Road.

Wayne County

■Thursday: The full board of Wayne County commissioners are set to vote on the proposal.