Detroit City Council split on water authority plan

Darren A. Nichols and Steve Pardo
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Wednesday pitched the benefits of a proposed regional water authority to the Detroit City Council in an effort to encourage the panel to approve the plan.

Duggan, calling the Great Lakes Water Authority “the right thing for Detroiters,” spoke to council members and answered questions for more than two hours in preparation for the council’s Friday’s vote.

“I really think this is just an excellent plan,” Duggan said afterward. “It’s fair for everybody. I don’t think we could have had a fairer plan that balances the interest of the suburbs and wanting a voice on the regional system while giving Detroiters 100 percent control of the local system. It’s the right solution.”

Some council members praised the deal, but a few raised concerns. Council President Brenda Jones said she could not vote for it because the lease of Detroit’s water system creates a new “franchise” that requires a public vote.

“You worked hard on this and you did a good job,” Jones told Duggan. But, she said, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes “did not give me an order (to violate the charter). The judge gave me a vote. If I had an order, that is something totally different.”

Council president pro tem George Cushingberry and councilwoman Mary Sheffield also had worries about potential city charter violations.

City resident Shirley Burch urged the council to approve the deal, saying Duggan is the right leader to carry it out.

“Mayor Duggan has brought a proposal to you. I’m asking you to think of the people and what’s best for the city (so) we can come back,” Burch said.

Not all residents were pleased with the plan. City resident Valerie Burris urged Detroiters to “take your city back” and force Emergency Manager Keyvn Orr to approve the authority.

““Let the EM do it,” Burris said. “The charter, the council, congressmen, governor and state legislators are all subservient to the people. Detroit, you need to stand up and take your city back. Do not die on the vine while some people get rich off this proposal.”

The authority requires approval by members and at least one of the counties of Wayne, Oakland or Macomb to become a reality. If Detroit council members vote down the plan, they can be overridden by Orr. The deadline for county officials to vote is Oct. 10.

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

County executives from the three counties have expressed support for the authority’s creation. If all three counties approve the proposal, the regional authority would be governed by a board made up of two members appointed by the city’s mayor and one each appointed from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

The sixth appointment would come from the governor and represent communities outside the three main counties. If a community decides to not join, their representative will be chosen by the governor’s office.

Council member James Tate said the authority, “without a shadow of a doubt,” is the best deal under the circumstances.

Councilman Andre Spivey said the authority deal represents the last chance to fix the water system.

Major decisions, such as rate increases, will require five of the six votes to be approved.

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