The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality filed a lawsuit against the city of Flint on Wednesday, claiming that the City Council has put the public health in danger by refusing to vote on a 30-year water purchase contract through the Great Lakes Water Authority.
The lawsuit was earlier threatened through a letter from the MDEQ, stating that if the Council didn’t sign onto the GLWA deal by June 26th, they would be subject to legal action.
The City Council pushed back against the deal during their June 26th meeting, and instead voted to continue their current temporary contract with GLWA, agreeing to purchase water from them until September.
The lawsuit claims that because the city has “no reasonable alternative,” they are endangering the community by waiting, which could cause the city financial hardship. However, the Council has reservations about the deal, and alternative water deals were discussed at the meeting- mostly, the Council wants more time to uncover more information about the deal, present it to the public, and possibly draw up an alternative that doesn’t leave the city at a disadvantage.
The contract was written alongside State employees and endorsed by Mayor Weaver, but has much opposition from the public and the City Council.
City Council members feel that they’re being forced to sign the contract, and that the provisions in the agreement will be costly to residents.
The Vice-President of the Flint City Council, Vicki VanBuren, asked, “Why the rush? Does that mean everything else stops for us then, and we are on our own? I think (the state) wants us to vote on this and then walk away. Who is taking responsibility for the water we are drinking now? No one’s talking about it, they’re saying ‘just sign this 30-year contract.'”
3rd Ward Councilwoman Kate Fields voiced her concerns as well, stating that the mayor was “trying to push GLWA down our throats.” She herself filed Freedom of Information Act requests for further information on the deal.
Her concerns go warranted, as GLWA CEO Sue McCormick and independent water consultant John Young had few answers to the relevant questions given by the Council at a public meeting held in May.
The contract includes a minimum four percent increase on water rates that is compounded each year—even though Flint already pays the highest water prices in the country.
At the City Council meeting on June 26th, hundreds of residents showed up wearing black- “in mourning” for the silencing of Flint voices, stated resident Vicki Marx. There were loud cheers when council members criticized the deal, and the public comment period saw residents who were frustrated at the State’s efforts to coerce the city to sign the agreement:
“The same people telling us there’s a deadline is the same people who was in there when the water was dirty,” said one resident (referring to MDEQ, EPA, and other state employees) to loud cheers from the attendees.
This lawsuit heightens the pressure on the Council to sign the deal- as does yesterday’s decision by the Receivership Transition Advisory Board to overturn the moratorium that the Council signed to delay the property tax liens that could end in thousands of residents being foreclosed on due to unpaid water bills. Factored into the board’s decision was Flint CFO David Sabuda’s claim of a large deficit looming due to the Council’s refusal to sign the GLWA deal the previous night. He tied in the estimated $12 million deficit the city could incur as a result of not signing the GLWA contract with the $5 million owed in collections. While those amounts are mutually exclusive, he used the fear of further city debt to sway the board.
Both City Council and Flint residents voiced their feelings in opposition to the state-drafted deal on the night of June 26th, 2017. The next day, the residents were punished by the Snyder-appointed Advisory Board, who reinstated tax liens on unpaid water bills. The day after that, the state sued the city for not pushing through their deal fast enough.
State interference through the Emergency Managers caused the crisis that the city is in. Today, they are compelled yet again by State forces to do their bidding and not ask questions.
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