Regional water authority members sworn in, organize
Detroit — A regional water authority forged through the city’s historic bankruptcy convened Friday for its first organizational meeting.
The Great Lakes Water Authority emerged in September, following months of talks between officials from Detroit and Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.
Under the agreement, Detroit will retain ownership of the area’s water and sewage system, but the suburbs agreed to a 40-year, $50 million annual lease that gives them more of a stake in the operations.
The agreement means that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will provide maintenance and service in the city and the authority will handle responsibilities for about 3 million suburban customers.
The authority’s initial governing board members were sworn in Friday by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox and approved basic procedures and an interlocal agreement that allows the state to be a part of the authority and Gov. Rick Snyder to appoint a representative.
Detroit’s water department is in the midst of a 200-day conversion in which the Board of Water Commissioners will hand off operations. A lease is expected to be signed by mid-June and is slated to go into effect on July 1.
Membership now includes Detroit’s Deputy Mayor Isaiah “Ike” McKinnon and Chief Operating Officer Gary Brown, who were appointed this week by Mayor Mike Duggan. Others include Oakland County’s Deputy Executive Bob Daddow and, from Macomb County, Brian Baker, a finance and budget director in Sterling Heights.
Ultimately, there will be six members, including Snyder’s appointment and another from Wayne County.
“It’s a pretty daunting task to achieve a 200-day conversion,” said Daddow, who chaired Friday’s meeting. “These issues are really substantial.”
Members agreed to meet in January.
Under the agreement, rate increases are to be capped at 4 percent over the next decade.
The agreement also includes an annual $4.5 million payment assistance fund for customers throughout the region who need assistance with payment of water bills.
Detroit’s City Council, by a 7-2 vote, approved joining the authority in September. Commissioners for the three counties voted to sign on in October.
“I’m hopeful things will change for the better,” Daddow said, noting progress made by DWSD Director Sue McCormick and the board in recent years, “now that we’re all at the table and we have a mutual interest to do this thing right.”
McCormick said that water board will either go away or be reformulated when the transition is complete. Her future role is also uncertain, she said.
“This has been 37 years in the making, and it’s really a privilege to be here in the moment,” she said.