Judge slows state’s effort to revive Flint water deal

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

A Detroit federal judge is rejecting a four-day deadline the state Department of Environmental Quality requested in a Friday emergency motion, deciding instead to rule by mid-November whether to give Flint’s mayor the power to approve a new 30-year water lease with the Detroit area system.

The decision means Karen Weaver, the Flint mayor who supports the long-term agreement with the Great Lakes Water Authority, may no longer be in office by the time U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson makes his decision because there is a Tuesday recall election.

Lawson said Friday he wants responses from the Mayor’s Office and City Council by Thursday — two days after the recall election in which Weaver faces 17 opponents including council member Scott Kincaid, who opposes the 30-year agreement with the Great Lakes authority.

The judge also ordered a Nov. 13 hearing to hear the emergency motion to let Weaver “immediately execute the Master Agreement and the agreements incorporated therein on behalf of the City of Flint without regard to any objections by the Flint City Council.”

The mayor has been at odds with a majority of the nine City Council members who wanted to further study the 30-year agreement with the Detroit-area Great Lakes authority.

But Lawson also requested that “authorized representatives” of the mayor’s office, City Council and other interested parties such as the state, the Genesee County Drain Commission and the Karegnondi Water Authority be available immediately after the Nov. 13 hearing for “continued mediation,” according to a Friday posting.

Lawson a week ago rejected the council’s emergency motion for more study and cleared the way late last month for Weaver to proceed, responding to the mayor’s warning that the city could go bankrupt if the deal wasn’t approved and rejecting council’s attempts at more time.

But he said in the Oct. 27 ruling that escrowed signatures on the 30-year deal had lapsed and it meant the master agreement had expired. Lawson indicated he couldn’t order the city of Flint to execute the agreement.

In the filing, the DEQ said a revised 30-year agreement has been negotiated and approved Friday by the Great Lakes authority. It also has been signed by the state, Genesee County Drain Commission and the regional Karegnondi Water Authority, which initially was to be Flint’s water source but now becomes a backup system under the 30-year agreement.

The City Council has indicated it doesn’t agree with the development, so the state wants Lawson to make an expedited ruling by Tuesday.

The judge should “order the Mayor to immediately executive the Master Agreement and the agreements incorporated therein on behalf of the City of Flint without regard to any objections by the Flint City Council,” according to the filing.

In a mid-October decision, Lawson took Flint’s council to task for sitting on an April agreement backed by Weaver, the state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency that would have the city stay on the Detroit area water system.

“The failure of leadership, in light of the past crises and manifold warnings related to the Flint water system, is breathtaking,” the judge wrote in a decision ordering the council to approve a long-term water source.

The Flint council snubbed the judge and approved a two-year extension of service with the Great Lakes Water Authority even though no one else had proposed it.

Weaver would sign the agreement if empowered by the judge. If Kincaid were to oust Weaver in the recall election, he would be unlikely to sign the agreement.