NewsRegionWayne County

Fight between GLWA and Highland Park leads to higher water rates for metro Detroit

Posted at 8:07 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 20:07:52-05

(WXYZ) — Your water rates are expected to go up in July, in part due to a fight between the Great Lakes Water Authority and Highland Park.

The Great Lakes Water Authority last month approved a 3.7% wholesale water rate increase and a 2.4% sewer rate increase. Part of that increase is due to operations expenses. Part of it is also a bad debt surcharge. The surcharge aims to pay off some of the $55 million the Great Lakes Water Authority says is owed by the City of Highland Park.

During a presentation, the Great Lakes Water Authority on Friday told the Conference of Western Wayne Communities that the bad debt surcharge is approximately a 1.15% increase.

“Highland Park certainly has a responsibility to pay its bills, just like you all do. Just like we do,” said Suzanne R Coffey, Interim Chief Executive Officer.

Coffey says when one community doesn’t pay what is billed, others must eventually cover the cost.

Community leaders from around metro Detroit criticized the water authority, while at times empathizing with Highland Park.

“Highland Park is paying four times the rates of everyone else,” said Kevin McNamara, Van Buren Township Supervisor.

“This is more than just people not arguably paying their bills. You have an infrastructure issue there that needs to be fixed,” Kurt Heise, Plymouth Township Supervisor told the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Highland Park’s City Administrator says the community is paying what it believes it owes, and what a court has found it owed. There are ongoing legal disputes.

“Two thousand houses and 700 businesses and they want us to pay $8 million a year. And it is unmetered,” said Cathy Square, Highland Park City Administrator.

Square says the fight over water rates has wreaked havoc on the City of Highland Park. She said Highland Park was facing insolvency years ago due to bills and was sent into receivership. During that process, it was ordered to hire a professional city administrator to keep the city on track, creating her position.

The City of Highland Park had its own water plant until 2002. Square says a state inspection found problems at the plant and ordered the city hook up to emergency lines through what is now the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Those emergency lines are unmetered. She says the City of Highland Park had meters installed on homes and businesses. They find a fraction of the water is being consumed, relative to what the Great Lakes Water Authority is charging the city for.

“What Highland Park is on is like hoses coming from your neighbor's house. Eleven emergency lines coming into the city. Non-metered. So now we have non-metered sewer and non-metered water, which provides an opportunity to do whatever you want, charge whatever you want,” said Square.

Square says Highland Park hired experts to search for leaks. It found none.

“Is it leaking in Detroit before it gets here? Because if it were leaking here, we would know it,” said Square.

The Conference of Western Wayne Communities voted to pass a resolution calling on the state to intervene and help in the situation. They suggested that perhaps surplus funding could be used to pay some of the debt down or improve infrastructure to resolve the continuous disputes.

They also wrote a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, calling on her to take action on their behalf.