The Flint, Michigan city council has asked a federal judge to extend the deadline for the city to decide on a long term water contract.
The council said it had filed an emergency motion on Sunday night, one day before the council had been ordered by Detroit U.S. District Judge David Lawson to choose a water source after the council spent more than three months delaying the decision.
In June, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality asked for a mandatory injunction directing the city to sign a 30-year deal with Great Lakes Water Authority, from which the city currently draws its water, or present another alternative.
It's unclear if Lawson will schedule a hearing on the council's request this week or if he will issue a new order. Lawson gave MDEQ until Tuesday Oct. 24 to respond to the city council’s request for a stay on deadline.
The city says that if the court doesn’t dismiss or reinstate the case, the city would be “forced under duress to decide on a long-term contract” before it had an expert analysis.
On Sunday, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said she wanted the council to make a decision.
“We know this is a good recommendation that was put forward,” she said. “We didn’t come to this decision quickly. City Council needs to move forward.”
Flint’s city council met on Friday to debate the proposed 30-year deal with the Detroit based Great Lakes Water Authority. The deal would see the city lose rights to water from the Karegnondi Water Authority, which is building a bond-financed pipeline to tap Lake Huron water.
Under the plan Flint would sell off its rights to pipeline water and use those funds to cover the portion of KWA debt it is obligated to repay. The city is legally obligated to repay 34% of the $220 million 2014 bond issue. The city’s former emergency managers participated in the KWA project with Genesee County.
The city’s bond commitment is estimated at $7 million per year, for the next 28 years. When the city’s contract with Detroit's water agency, the GLWA's predecessor, ended, the city started pulling water from the Flint River while awaiting completion of the new pipeline and didn’t treat the water, leading to a contamination crisis that fouled the city's water and its pipes.
"It's obvious this judge is holding a gun to our head," said Councilwoman Jackie Poplar, at Friday’s council meeting.
Lawson's 29-page order filed last week said as a result of the city’s indecision, the court must issue its ruling. “There has been no resolution: the City Council has not voted on the negotiated agreement, it has not proposed an alternative, and the future of Flint’s fragile water system — its safety, reliability, and financial stability — is in peril,” Lawson wrote.
Flint’s city council has delayed the vote because it wants more time to look at the terms of the longer term water contract and, if required, explore other options. However the council hasn’t formally presented an alternative to replace the water contract with GLWA.
Flint has made has made a two-year agreement, and then a series of month-to-month extensions with GLWA which, the MDEQ points out, are not financially sustainable. The contract to stay with GLWA would result in about $9 million in savings, because it would lock in a more favorable rate with GLWA and Flint would recoup about $7 million in annual debt service by transferring its KWA water rights to GLWA.
“Despite having almost a year’s notice, the City Council continues to insist that it needs more time to review alternatives before approving a long-term deal,” Lawson wrote in his ruling.