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Macomb, Oakland Counties Snub Detroit's Request for Federal Mediator to Resolve Water Talks

Negotiations between Detroit and the suburbs to create a regional water authority to help restructure Detroit's debt are in the "angry" phase, Wayne County lawyers said.

Wayne County has asked for a federal mediator to help resolve differences between Detroit and the suburbs on formation of a regional water authority. (Patch file photo)
Wayne County has asked for a federal mediator to help resolve differences between Detroit and the suburbs on formation of a regional water authority. (Patch file photo)

Neither Oakland nor Macomb county officials appear interested in working with a mediator to resume talks to create a regional water authority with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Wayne County officials made the appeal this week in the form of a motion in federal court asking for a federal mediator to help resolve the differences, the Detroit Free Press reports. Ficano said he’s confident a mediator can work out differences between the city and suburban leaders.

Discussions are in the “angry” phase, lawyers for Wayne County said in their motion before federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, who is overseeing Detroit’s effort to restructure $18 billion in debt.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel  illustrated the emotional state of the talks in a blunt refusal Thursday to continue talks, saying he has no interest in further discussions with Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager. Orr has proposed the regional water authority as a way to raise revenue and help lift Detroit out of bankruptcy.

“I am not having any further discussions with Kevyn Orr or anybody about Detroit water and sewer as part of the bankruptcy,” Hackel told the Free Press. “I don’t see why it has to be part of the bankruptcy process. As soon as Kevyn Orr is gone, we’ll continue our regional efforts. ... He is not one of the regional partners. He’s here for one reason: to settle bankruptcy and deal with creditors. Every time we’ve talked with Orr, he’s had nothing to say about the integrity of the system or about protecting ratepayers. When he’s gone, I’ll be more than happy to sit down.”

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said in a statement that he’s optimistic a mediator could “help break through some of the roadblocks to a regional solution.”

“We continue to believe that a regional authority, on the right terms that work for the ratepayers, is still the way to go,” Ficano said. “With the court’s assistance, I believe people of good faith can still get a deal done that works.”

However, Oakland County officials declined Ficano’s invitation to join in the call for a federal mediator and are looking at the feasibility of joining with Macomb County to provide an alternative to what has been characterized as “the continued monopolistic use” of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

One of the largest municipal utilities in the country, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department serves Detroit and 127 southeast Michigan communities and provides drinking water for 40 percent of Michigan residents.

Keith Leminiaux, a lawyer for Oakland County, said officials have received no assurance that Orr and his team plan to negotiate in good faith.

“We offered to go into mediation last year, and the city indicated that it was premature,” Lerminiaux said.

At next Thursday’s meeting, Oakland County Commissioners will consider a $3 million study on the feasibility of working with Macomb County to create a water system recently unanimously recommended by its finance committee. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners Auditorium, 1200 North Telegraph Road in Pontiac.
Jack Manning April 12, 2014 at 10:21 AM
Ficano and Duggan are wily individuals that you can't trust any farther than you can throw them. Ficano would love to bring in one of the Obama Gang as a Mediator to gang-up on Oakland and Macomb. Both Oakland and Macomb should sit back and let the dust settle from the Detroit bankruptcy. It is also none of the bankruptcy judge's business regarding the future of the water system and also applies to Kevin Orr.
Tim Brewster April 12, 2014 at 10:56 AM
I am a macomb resident. Thank you mark hackle for standing up for us and not making Wayne County problems ours. It seems that whenever detroit has a financial problem the answer to to tax the suburbs to bail them out. (dia, bus system). Not no more! I believe the resdients of Oakland and macomb are fed up. I believe Oakland and macomb need to look at other avenues for water and sewage. I would gladly vote for a millage to get us on our own water and sewage system. Then what would detroit do without that revenue?
Saulius Simoliunas April 12, 2014 at 01:52 PM
To tell the truth DWSD is an outdated system. DWSD will replace incineration by landfilling by giving the contract to a pricey company and raising costs to ratepayers. Anaerobic digestion of sludge would lower the costs to ratepayers. But this is what DWSD will not do.
Harold Leese April 14, 2014 at 10:17 PM
Another Regional tax increase to learn about http://savethefueltax.org

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