DETROIT (WWJ) – It’s being called a historic deal. The City of Detroit and executives with Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties have reached an agreement to create the Great Lakes Water Authority to manage water and sewer operations in the tri-county area.
Saying Detroit’s water system is under-funded and deals with 2,000 water main breaks a year, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan explained the “memorandum of understanding” at a news conference Tuesday.
Under the deal, Detroit will retain ownership of the system; but the counties will have a greater say in operations. The counties will lease regional water assets from Detroit $50 million per year for the next 40 years; and, for water customers, the rates imposed by the authority will be limited to 4-percent a year for the next 10 years.
The agreement guarantees funding to rebuild the system’s aging water infrastructure, as well as financial assistance for customers throughout the region who are struggling to pay their bills.
As for job concerns, the city said in a media release, that of the 1,400 Detroit Water and Sewerage Department employees today, it is expected that approximately 500 will remain working at DWSD on Detroit’s local system and approximately 900 will transfer to the GLWA to run the regional system. GLWA will honor all collective bargaining agreements of DWSD employees.
The Detroit water and sewer system consists of more than 3,400 miles of local water mains, 3,000 miles of local sewer pipes, 27,000 fire hydrants and an extensive billing and collection system, according to the city.
Tuesday’s agreement was announced at the federal courthouse, while Detroit’s bankruptcy trial continued floors above.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson explained to reporters why he signed the agreement.
“What pressured me was if we didn’t make a deal, then the federal judge would make it for us,” said Patterson. “And I’m not sure he would’ve fought for the kind of the protections that we were able to put into the MOU (memorandum of understanding).”
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said that if southeast Michigan wants to be competitive with other U.S. regions, “…We need to start coming together and acting as a region.”
“We might not all get what we want out of these bargains and out of these deals,” he added, “but we need to put down the swords and come to the reality that we gotta look at and focus on a region.”
Coping with corruption and struggling financially, the Detroit’s water department has been steeped in controversy for many years; and the DWSD stepped up service shutoffs in March to collect some of the nearly $90 million owed by residents and businesses with past-due accounts.
In July, more than a thousand protesters took to the streets to demand water service be restored for struggling Detroiters and the United Nations criticized shutoffs in the city as a violation of international human rights. A lawsuit targeting the city called the shutoffs discriminatory against African Americans.