Flint council balks at Detroit water contract

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — The City Council backed away Friday from approving a 30-year contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority, saying they felt they were “being bullied.”

Following a two-hour executive session Friday, Flint Council President Kerry Nelson and representative of the city’s 3rd Ward said he speaks on behalf of a majority of council members in saying “we’re not getting cooperation” in negotiations to keep the city’s water flowing.

Friday’s session came after a federal judge on Tuesday was considering a 30-day extension to Flint’s short-term contract with the Great Lakes Water authority to give council more time to approve a long-term drinking water source. But extending it any further, the court said, could result in funding problems.

The city’s contract with the Detroit regional water system is set to end Oct. 1, but the extension would allow the water supply to continue for another 30 days.

U.S. District Judge David Lawson warned city officials and their lawyers that inaction could lead to approving a request from the state for “intervention” and require the contract’s approval to protect the public health.

“We feel like we are being bullied, that they (the state of Michigan) are saying ‘This is it, we know what’s best for you, take it,’” Nelson said.

Nelson admitted the timeframe is unfortunate, but said council wants to ensure the process is fair.

A resolution, he added, is not forthcoming: “I can’t say when it will be, and at this junction, I will say only that we will talk and continue to talk.”

“But to have someone say to you after all that has happened ... ‘you take it, you’ve got to take it’ or ‘you must take it, we know what is best for you, just sign on the dotted line,’ no, no way. We are not accepting that,” he said.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality sued Flint in June, arguing Flint council’s refusal to approve the agreement with the Great Lakes authority is endangering public health in the wake of a lead-contamination crisis that has largely been blamed on the state itself.

The lawsuit asks the court to have elected officials enter into the Great Lakes authority agreement that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver negotiated.

Attorneys from the city of Flint and state have been in mediation trying to resolve their differences on Lawson’s orders.

Flint’s state oversight board had scheduled a tentative Friday meeting in case of an approval so it could approve a contract and keep water flowing from the Detroit regional system through a Genesee County pipe it has.

The deal would cost Flint $12.1 million a year. The state has argued that Flint has no feasible alternate water source.

For Nelson, the hardest hurdle with the proposed deal is it has the blessing of Gov. Rick Snyder and “some people in this community just don’t believe the governor has our best interests at heart,” he said.