Flint city council postpones vote on long term water contract

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DALLAS -- Flint, Michigan’s city council voted to postpone a vote on a long term water contract until Nov. 27 to buy more time for newly elected council members to weigh in on an amended version of a 30-year deal with Great Lakes Water Authority.

The council said in a special meeting on Monday morning that it was closing in on an agreement and would be ready to vote on a long term contract before its latest short term water contract with GLWA expires on Nov. 30.

Monday’s decision came just hours before a hearing in federal court in Detroit in which the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will argue that Judge David Lawson needs to authorize and order Mayor Karen Weaver to sign off on the 30-year deal with the GLWA, and bypass the city council.

Lawson could issue an order during the hearing, allowing Mayor Karen Weaver to bypass the council and approve a water contract on her own.

MDEQ sued the city of Flint to force officials to approve a long-term water supply contract, which would avoid a repeat of the Flint water emergency.

The water contamination crisis followed the city's decision to participate in the Karegnondi Water Authority project. After Flint's contract with Detroit supplied water ended, the city's emergency manager shifted to Flint River water as the city awaited completion of the new KWA pipeline. Flint did not treat the water properly, leading to the contamination crisis.

Lawson has given Flint City Council members several extensions to come up with a permanent water source over the last few months.

The contract would save the city about $9 million by locking in a more favorable rate with GLWA and addressing the $7 million in debt service payments the city is currently obligated to pay on KWA bonds.

At Monday’s meeting councilman Eric Mays said he was encouraged by the progress the new city council had already achieved in a week of negotiations. “This council made a decision in a week where the old one postponed over months,” Mays said.

Mays wants Lawson to allow the city the time until the current short term contract expires to speak to all the parties, including GLWA, Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative representatives. Mays still maintains that the state should pick up the tab for the city’s KWA bond debt and let the city retain the KWA pipeline, though he said he would be ready to vote by Nov. 27 on whatever version of the contract the council agreed on.

A list of amendments would be made available to the public before next Monday’s meeting, if Lawson allows the council more time for decision.

MDEQ filed a motion to bypass the city council to give power to mayor Weaver to sign off on the contract before a recall election on Nov. 3. Lawson denied the request and held off on the hearing until after the election.

Weaver survived the election and will serve out the remainder of her elected term until November 2019. The victory means Weaver’s long-term water contract with Great Lakes Water Authority remains on the table. The city council has opposed the deal because of concerns over increased water rates and has delayed voting on the contract for months, costing the city million in savings.

The deal was negotiated in April by Weaver with the support of Genesee County, the lead in constructing the new pipeline, along with GLWA and state officials.

Flint was preparing to shift to KWA in 2019 with plans to upgrade its treatment plant to meet federal standards. The city is legally obligated to repay 34% of the $220 million 2014 bond issue that is financing construction of the authority’s 63-mile pipeline led by Genesee County.

Weaver blames the city council delay for putting Flint "in limbo" over its long-term water source and said it has opened the door for the return of an emergency manager or bankruptcy because of inaction.

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