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One state rep says new Detroit regional water authority needs legislative approval

State Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth.
Michigan Republicans

One state legislator says the process of creating a regional authority to manage southeast Michigan’s water needs to start from scratch.

The Great Lakes Water Authority wasfinalized last week. The Authority will lease and run what’s now the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s system outside Detroit city limits for $50 million a year.

But State Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth Township) says that arrangement is “not a real authority”—because only the state legislature can create such arrangements.

Heise plans to re-introduce legislation to create a new authority.

The GLWA emerged from Detroit’s bankruptcy process, with details hashed out behind closed doors in federal court. Heise says that’s a problem.

“[Negotiations were] all done behind closed doors, with federal judges in charge,” Heise says. “It’s not transparent, and there’s a gag order on all the parties. And if you violate the gag order, you’re just kicked out of discussions altogether.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel was excluded from some last-minute talks by US federal judge Sean Cox for publicly criticizing the process.

Heise maintains that process needs to take place in public. His bill would create a different, nine-member regional authority, the Southeast Michigan Water Quality Alliance.

“The democratic process is slow, it’s messy, and not everybody gets their way,” Heise says. “But it’s a far more accountable process than we have now.”

Another major issue is how much water rates will increase under the GLWA as it’s currently structured.

When the GLWA was first announced late last year, with Detroit’s bankruptcy still ongoing, officials touting the deal said rate increases would be limited to only 4% per year.

But representatives for Macomb and Oakland counties quickly started questioning that number, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and others later backed off the claim, saying the 4% increase only applied to the Detroit water department’s overall yearly budget. They now acknowledge rates will likely increase much more than that.

Heise says that’s a problem. “They [ratepayers] were promised only a 4% rate increase, and they’re getting much more than that,” he says. “They’re mad. They want their representatives to have a seat at the table.”

The new legislation also has a companion bill that would require the Michigan Public Service Commission to sign off on rate increases proposed by any new regional water authority, including the GLWA.

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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