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Flint council narrowly OKs 30-year water deal

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint — After nearly four hours of public pressure to reject a water deal and fierce debate, the Flint City Council narrowly voted to approve a controversial 30-year drinking water contract that staves off a federal judge making the decision for the troubled city.

The vote was 5 to 4. “I’m glad that it passed,” said Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.

“It’s been a long-time coming,” she said. “We have squandered time, we have wasted money. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to show people we can govern ourselves.”

Weaver said many people had “misinformation” about the deal. “I was glad that our city attorney cleared those points up because they were not accurate,”she said.

City Council members were under pressure Tuesday night by emotional residents to vote no on a proposed 30-year water deal and to defy a federal judge’s orders.

Residents one-by-one slammed the deal and even sparred with council members as they took turns speaking before the panel and Weaver, who supported the deal with the Detroit-area Great Lakes Water Authority to supply drinking water to the city.

Call the judge’s bluff, speaker after speaker said.

While acknowledging that U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson has put the council in a box by requiring a decision Tuesday or he will make it for them, residents implored the council to fight back and sue. They called the deal wrong for Flint wrong in the long-term because it’s too long without caps on escalating monthly water bills, already among the highest in the nation.

“It does not benefit the residents,” said Arthur Woodson, a Flint resident who led a failed recall effort against Weaver but that produced five new council members earlier this month. “We are in crisis and we’ve never been made whole.”

Mike Keeler, 60, of Flint said to council members: “It’s time to run” from the deal.

“The smart vote tonight would be not to vote at all,” he said. “This is going to be a bad decision for us.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has asked Lawson to empower Weaver to sign a long-term contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority despite no approval from the City Council. Weaver has argued that the council’s delays threaten the city with possible bankruptcy. Flint officials say the delay has cost the cash-strapped city $6.7 million.

Councilwoman Kate Fields said in a statement before the meeting said she would vote no because several on the council “had problems with the contract as presented.” She complained that the city, state and Lawson have “prevented us from obtaining an unbiased analysis of all options.”

“That judgment would give us very strong arguments for an appeal in appellate court and I believe we would have that judgment overturned,” her statement said. “That action would also give us the time to gather ALL the facts and then make the right decision. The city, state, and federal judge have put us in a box. The walls of this box are comprised of deliberate strategies that would allow only one option (Great Lakes) as the choice.”

Every City Council member from Flint, with five new members, attended Monday’s hearing in Detroit. The council’s attorney, Peter Doerr, earlier asked Lawson for another week “based on the amount of progress I’ve seen.” The council voted earlier Monday to meet on Nov. 27 and make a decision on the water source at that meeting.

Lawson said a decision is important because “there are health and financial considerations” at stake for Flint residents and their water source. The judge said he could appoint a “special master” to carry out his orders or put the city under “receivership,” the latter of which he decried for the sake of letting Flint govern themselves.

Lawyers for the state argued that repeated demands for the Flint council to approve the 30-year contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority or an alternative source have been met with months of delay and inaction. The DEQ has alleged the council’s inaction endangers Flint residents’ health and saddled utility payers with bigger bills.

The mayor has been at odds with a majority of the nine City Council members who wanted to further study the potential 30-year agreement and hire a North Dakota consultant to give them options.

Last month, Lawson cleared the way for Weaver to proceed in her efforts. But he said in the Oct. 27 ruling that escrowed signatures on the deal had lapsed and the master agreement had expired. Lawson indicated he couldn’t order the city of Flint to execute the agreement.

“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 the ruling.

In the filing, the DEQ said a revised 30-year agreement has been negotiated and approved by the Great Lakes Water Authority, 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 agreement.


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