State brokers deal to end unpaid water bill dispute in Highland Park ⋆

A tentative deal between the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) and the city of Highland Park could finally bring an end to a 10-year dispute over unpaid water bills. 

Announced Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose office helped to broker the deal, the tentative agreement commits the state of Michigan to funding historic infrastructure repairs in the Southeast Michigan city and within the GLWA service area. The city and water authority would also be responsible for additional commitments under their side of the tentative agreement

“I’m proud that GLWA and Highland Park are one step closer to an agreement to ensure that we can protect access to drinking water for every family in the community,” said Whitmer. “An agreement will help move this community move forward, lower costs, and implement a fairer system for surrounding communities.”

Approved unanimously Wednesday night by the Highland Park City Council, the deal would dismiss ongoing lawsuits involving approximately $55 million in disputed water bills, including a nearly $24 million judgment against Highland Park. It’s expected to go before the GLWA board next week. 

In October, busloads of Highland Park residents and members of the People’s Water Board Coalition arrived at the Michigan Capitol to advocate for residents facing the burden of the unpaid water tab. Activists from Flint and Benton Harbor — who have contended with lead-tainted water — joined them.

Under the tentative agreement, the state of Michigan has committed to: 

  • Fund installation of master water and temporary sewer meters in Highland Park. 
  • Fund water main and service line replacement efforts within Highland Park. 
  • Release a $25 million sewer infrastructure grant for GLWA that was previously appropriated. 
  • Fund a $5 million grant for GLWA for drinking water infrastructure. 
  • Revise an administrative consent order imposed by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to include the settlement terms. 

“Our goal has always been to resolve the situation in a way that one, doesn’t put this large financial judgment on the backs of Highland Park residents, and two, addresses long-term water infrastructure needs of Highland Park,” said state state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit).

By replacing the water mains and service lines, the city is expected to be able to contain the water within the system, resulting in lower costs for residents, while preventing leaks into the sewage system.  

Highland Park’s water infrastructure is nearly 120 years old, resulting in an estimated 70% loss of its water due to leaks.

In addition, by installing water master meters on water lines and sufficient temporary meters, its believed an accurate accounting of residents’ water and sewage usage can be provided and help prevent future disputes over water and sewer bills.

Finally, the state has committed to offsetting costs for residents in the GLWA service area by providing $30 million for infrastructure upgrades within the regional water system.  

Highland Park residents were joined by supporters from Flint and Benton Harbor to call for justice over the city’s unpaid $24 million debt to the Great Lakes Water Authority. | Kyle Davidson

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authored by Jon King
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F10%2F20%2Fstate-brokers-deal-to-end-unpaid-water-bill-dispute-in-highland-park%2F

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