Officials: Flint could go broke without water deal

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint officials on Tuesday told a judge preparing to rule on its contract for a water source with the Great Lakes Water Authority that if the city fails to reach a deal, Flint could be forced into bankruptcy.

In the latest court filing before U.S. District Judge David Lawson, Flint officials led by Mayor Karen Weaver said Flint City Council members have been stalling and since April have “done nothing to obtain additional information to allow council to make a decision” about a 30-year master agreement for a water source for the city that Weaver backs.

“By not taking action to approve or deny the master agreement, council has effectively put the public’s health at risk and created an inevitable timetable for possible receivership and/or bankruptcy of the city of Flint,” the filing said. “Council has, at all opportunities, utilized this court case for political gain in dereliction of their fiduciary duties.”

Weaver told The Detroit News that the financial strain on the city’s coffers “is one of the things we’ve been trying to stress” to the City Council but the appeals have failed. The city, the mayor said, has been spending $444,000 on monthly bond payments to the Karegnondi Water Authority since July for a total of $1.7 million. If the Great Lakes water deal is complete, the authority would issues credits to Flint to offset the costs.

“For them to stall like this ... it’s taking the finances from the city,” Weaver said. “We’re paying close to $500,000 a month for the bond payments. It’s absolutely shameful that nothing has been decided this long after the recommendation was proposed.”

It is unclear when the judge will make a decision. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality sued Flint in June, arguing the council’s refusal to approve an 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.

Some council members argue that the issue needed more study and that they have felt “bullied” in the process to push the 30-year-agreement, given the genesis of the water crisis, which leached lead into drinking water.

But the mayor said the council has had “plenty of opportunity” to decide on an agreement since a council representative was present during the planning process that shaped the proposed deal.

“Well how much time do you need?” she said. “This isn’t a decision that was made in two weeks. This was over months.”

Council President Kerry Nelson said he disagreed with Weaver’s claims that the council was represented in the planning process.

“This is what they’re forgetting: We have to listen to the people that elected us. The people that elected us say we don’t want a 30-year deal with Detroit (Great Lakes Water Authority),” Nelson said. “In that, why not give us an independent study? If the study says that Detroit is the safe, affordable way to go, then certainly we would not deny that.”

Nelson said the Weaver administration is reluctant to study the deal “because they know that this grand master deal ... there’s more to it.”

As for the state pushing the deal: “We don’t want the governor to tell us,” he said. “The last time he told us something, we got poisoned water. We don’t want that.”

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