DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – It’s a historic deal that will affect millions of water users in southeast Michigan.

A new regional authority was formalized Friday to take over operations of Detroit’s water and sewer system, a move that’s designed to limit future rate increases and improve the system’s aging infrastructure.

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A board representing Detroit, its surrounding counties and the state signed on to the Great Lakes Water Authority deal. Under the agreement, the suburbs will pay Detroit $50 million a year for 40 years and get a say in how the system is run, and the city retains ownership of the system

“This is an historic step forward in resolving decades of conflict between Detroit and our suburban neighbors,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. “Detroit will have the resources we need to rebuild our city’s crumbling water and sewer pipes.”

Detroit’s water system serves about 700,000 city residents and 4 million people in southeastern Michigan. The city’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy approved last year called for the deal to be in place by Sunday. Under the agreement, Detroit retains ownership of the system.

“County leaders will have a true voice in running the part of the system that serves the suburbs,” said Duggan. “Each community will be responsible its own water and sewer bills.”

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson agreed that the new authority gives the suburbs greater control of the water system and ends a “monopolistic system.”

“It is perfect no,” Patterson said. ” But I think it gives us the kind of control that we can rest a lot easier than we have in the past.”

As part of the change, a new $4.5 million assistance fund will be available to help low-income families. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department faced protests last year following shutoffs to residents with delinquent accounts, but other efforts to curb that have already taken place.

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The vote was 5-1 to approve the Great Lakes Water Authority. Macomb County’s representative, Brian Baker, voted against the deal, saying it could mean substantially higher water bills for suburban customers.

“We’re paying more with too little say,” Baker said.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel believes a better a strategy to form the authority could have been utilized that will benefit everyone in region.

“I don’t think it was appropriate to put a governing structure together that favored one community over the others,” Hackel told WWJ. “I see the model that we created for Cobo was one that should have been followed. It was not.”

Gary Brown, one of Detroit’s members and the city’s chief operating officer, said he disagreed with Baker’s assessment.

“There was never any intent to shift costs to any community, and I think this lease has done an outstanding job in ensuring every community, including Detroit, will be responsible for collections and pulling their own weight,” Brown said.

Duggan credited Judge Sean Cox and Rich Baird, assistant to Gov. Rick Snyder, saying they spent “more than 100 hours … helping us reach this agreement.”

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