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Highland Park, GLWA hit pause on court case over city's massive water bill

The Highland Park Ford Motor Company plant
Andrew Jameson
Wikimedia Commons

Highland Park and the Great Lakes Water Authority have agreed to put a long-running court case on pause, giving the two sides more time to work out how the city will pay a huge water bill.

Highland Park faces a $24 million court judgment after not paying disputed water and sewer bills for years. The city and GLWA had been in mediation, trying to work out a plan for Highland Park to pay. The city says it can’t afford to pay, and has requested a state financial review and expedited bankruptcy proceeding.

Now, the two sides have struck a deal that gives them more time to do that. It puts court proceedings in two separate, related cases on pause in the meantime.

The state has also signaled its intention to get involved in settling the dispute. According to a statement from GLWA, “The state of Michigan intends to file a position statement with the court in the 2014 case stating its support of the stay of the proceedings and explaining why the State is involved and intends to participate in efforts to resolve this matter and reach a final, comprehensive solution to all issues.”

“I am pleased that we have been able to reach this interim agreement with the city of Highland Park,” GLWA CEO Suzanne Coffey said in a statement. “I am confident the effort exhibited by all parties, which has allowed us to get to this interim step, will carry forward and move us toward a more comprehensive solution for our region. In addition, we appreciate the state of Michigan’s desire and intention to participate in the process moving forward, as they are key to any long-term solution.”

State lawmakers who represent Highland Park also praised the agreement.

“This interim agreement is an important and positive step forward, and we commend the Great Lakes Water Authority and the City of Highland Park for working together to find solutions,” State Representative Mike McFall and State Senator Stephanie Chang said in a statement. “The agreed-upon compromise helps offer residents and the community some relief in the short term while also giving all parties involved, including the State of Michigan, the gift of time to keep communicating and negotiating on a comprehensive, permanent resolution of this situation.

“As public servants, we continue to advocate for the needs of Highland Park residents and all of the communities we represent, and we will keep working in our roles in state government to ensure safe, healthy water is accessible and affordable for all Michiganders.”

$20.3 million that would help Highland Park pay off the debt has been proposed in a pending Michigan Department of Health and Human Services budget. Highland Park needs to pay GLWA $1 million by Friday to keep the deal in place.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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