County Commission authorizes county to become member of Great Lakes Water Authority

The Wayne County Commission last week authorized the county to join the Great Lakes Water Authority, a new regional entity that will manage water and sewer operations currently run by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

The commission’s approval by a 14-1 vote triggers the creation of the authority, which required the city of Detroit and at least one of the three primary counties involved to vote to join. The Detroit City Council previously approved the authority; the Macomb and Oakland county boards of commissioners have not voted yet.

The authority’s six-member governing board will consist of two representatives from the city of Detroit; one each from Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties; and one appointed by the state who will represent the communities not in the tri-county area. If the Macomb or Oakland boards of commissioners do not approve the authority, the state will appoint their representatives to the board.

“This is a very good compromise that emerged from the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy, and it will give the entire region a say in how the system is run,” said Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak (D-Dearborn). “Suburban communities and the counties have long wanted seats at the table because the system has affected them, and now that will happen.”

Wayne County’s representative on the authority board will be recommended by the Executive’s Office within 30 days and is subject to confirmation by the commission. The authority is to be operational within 200 days of its inception.

The city of Detroit will maintain control of its 3,400 miles of water mains and 3,000 miles of sewer pipes. About 500 Detroit Water and Sewerage Department employees will remain with the department and the remaining 900 will become employees of the Great Lakes Water Authority. All existing union contracts will be honored.

The authority will lease the regional assets from Detroit for 40 years at $50 million per year. The assets include 400 miles of water mains, 360 miles of sewer pipes, five water filtration plants, the Detroit Waste Water Treatment Plant on West Jefferson Avenue and several retention basins and pump stations. The money is required to be used for system improvements only.

The authority also will fund a $4.5 million Water Residential Affordability Program, to help residential customers systemwide who are struggling to pay their water and sewerage bills. The city of Detroit will be responsible for its billing, collections and shortfalls.

Another provision of the agreement is that the authority will cap water and sewerage rate increases at 4 percent per year for its first 10 years. Any increases above 4 percent would be charged by a customer’s municipality.
The Wayne County Commission held two Committee of the Whole meetings in September to deliberate the creation of the authority. Additional information – including the memorandum of understanding, articles of incorporation and frequently asked questions – are posted at www.waynecounty.com.