Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ric-Man Submits Low Bid on Middlebelt Tunnel Project for Oakland County WRC

Earlier today, Ric-Man submitted a low bid of $28,179,498 for the project known as "Middlebelt Transport and Storage Tunnel." Ric-Man's bid was one of 9 bids received by the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner, who is the Owner for this project. 
  1. Ric-Man Construction . . . . . $28,179,498
  2. Jay Dee Contractors . . . . . . . $31,679,620
  3. Triad Midwest Mole JV . . . . $33,020,000
  4. SAK Construction . . . . . . . . .$35,383,320
  5. Super Excavators . . . . . . . . . $35,943,000
  6. S. J. Lewis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $37,668,000
  7. Guy F. Atkinson . . . . . . . . . .$42,473,660
  8. Kenny Construction . . . . . . .$44,931,200
  9. McNally . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  $62,562,000

The Project involves the construction of approximately 7,600 linear feet of 108 inch diameter storage and transport tunnel with primary and secondary liner, two diversion chambers, six tunnel structures and other related Work. The tunnel runs along Middlebelt Road between 11 1/2 Mile and 13 Mile in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The Engineer's Estimate for the Project was $32.2 million.

For more about DWSD Update, click here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

DWSD Water and Sewer Bond Rating Nears Bottom (UPDATE)

Detroit's water and sewer bond rating isn't at the bottom of Fitch's credit rating scale, but its getting very close. 

As reported earlier this week by Bond Buyer and today by the Detroit Free Press, the Fitch Ratings is warning that DWSD's $5.7 billion water and sewer debt could fall to "D" rating if the bankruptcy court approves the Emergency Manager's current plan of adjustment. 

Under the Fitch bond rating scale, there is nothing below a "D" rating. That's as low as it is. 

Comment: In my view, the negotiations concerning a regional water authority should be coming to a head very soon. With Governor Snyder poised to participate in the process, if his staff isn't already involved in the secret settlement talks, and the pressure from Wall Street beginning to build, I anticipate a tentative deal to be announced very soon. I think there is still much work to be done before any deal regarding the new authority can be finalized, but I think the outline of a deal is taking shape. 

Update (6/16): Earlier today, Fitch Ratings withdrew its "D" bond rating of Detroit's water and sewer debt. If I'm reading Fitch's ratings definitions correctly, Fitch is no longer providing a rating for DWSD's bonds. I think this is the equivalent of a stock being delisted by one of the stock exchanges. In other words, not good.     

For more about DWSD Update, click here

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mirza Rabbaig, PE: Reflections of a Colleague

Reflections of a Colleague

By: John McGrail, PE
Retired Head Engineer DWSD WWCG

A colleague dies and we reflect on his passing. We think of his wife and his children and how the loss will affect them. We secretly, I suppose think, "There but for the grace of God go I." We think back upon the years spent in close professional contact with our colleague and reflect on the ups and downs of that relationship and willingly, perhaps out of respect to the fallen colleague, extend to him the benefit of any doubt and remember all the good he did and we did together.

I did not know Mirza Rabbaig in the sense that he was a personal friend.  The department in which he and I spent over thirty years of our lives did not encourage the development of intimate friendships. Our department was not the kind of organization that saw such things as important. Perhaps such knowledge was not important. So I can speak only to what Mirza meant to me professionally.

Mirza was the sort of man who understood what needed to be done and then did it regardless of the obstacles placed before him. Mirza was the first and only leader of the department’s CSO program.  He became group leader of the CSO group around 1994 and from that time to the present day oversaw the development of a program that added more than 17 new facilities to the department’s infrastructure at a cost of nearly $500 million. In the 20 or so years from 1994 until the present day no group leader was more consistently and reliably productive than Mirza.

Here I must state my own admiration for the man.  My group was charged with the construction management of the department’s installation work. While my group worked everywhere in the department and installed projects generated by 13 head engineers over a period of thirty years, none produced more work than Mirza and since my group’s success was largely tied to the work product of the design groups, Mr. Rabbaig can be credited for a sizable portion of my success.

As time has passed, I find myself often remembering a lost colleague.  My friend and mentor Dave Casey like Mirza worked and never retired, dying before he had an opportunity to do so.  Just yesterday I learned of the death of AndrĂ© Hindo PE who, with his brothers Ned and Kal, were important personalities in the design and construction business in our region. Now I reflect on the passing of yet another colleague, Mirza Rabbaig and find myself sad and a bit lonely.

All who read this should remember Mirza as a man who got things done and who in significant ways improved the water quality environment of our region. 

If one day you are driving on I-94 west and pass the “concrete channel” on the Rouge River and see a heron wading along its shore stalking minnows, think of Mr. Rabbaig whose CSO facilities upstream made such a sight possible. Can we say more of a man who has left this sort of mark, I think not. 


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lakeshore Global Submits Low Bid on Water Main Replacement Project, WS-691 (UPDATED)

On May 15, 2014, Lakeshore Global Corporation submitted a low bid of $11,798,827 for the project known as "Water System Improvements: Joy Rd from Trinity to Southfield Fwy," DWSD Contract WS-691. 

There were only three (3) bidders on this project. The as-read bids received by DWSD are as follows:
  1. Lakeshore Global Corporation . . . $11,798,827
  2. Major Cement Company . . . . . . . . $14,879,043
  3. Blaze Contracting, Inc. . . . . . . . . . $15,249,000  

All three of these contractors are Detroit Based Businesses.

The scope of work for Contract WS-691 includes the replacement of existing 8-inch, 16-inch, and 24-inch water mains. The Contractor will furnish and install approximately 13,300 linear feet of 8-inch, 133 linear feet of 16-inch, and 8,022 linear feet of 24-inch ductile iron pipe and fittings.  

Update (6/25): Major Cement Company was awarded this contract today at the Regular Water Board Meeting. Lakeshore Global Corporation's bid was rejected as non-responsive because the required bid security and accompanying documentation was not contained in the bid package at the time of submittal.

For more about DWSD Update, click here

Support Building for Regional Water Authority Among DWSD's Suburban Wholesale Customers

Among DWSD's suburban wholesale customers, there is growing support for a regional water authority, despite continued opposition by Oakland and Macomb Counties. Wholesale customers are also seeking to join the currently-private mediation process aimed at forming a new water and sewer authority.   

On May 2, 2014, the Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority (SOCWA), which represents 11 suburban wholesale customers, including Birmingham, Royal Oak, and Southfield, filed papers with the bankruptcy court in Detroit's Chapter 9 case seeking to participate in the private mediation process originally requested by Wayne County in April. 

The Western Townships Utility Authority (WTUA), which represents Canton, Northville, and Plymouth has also endorsed a regional water authority as a viable alternative and sought participation in the process. 

Conference of Western Wayne Communities
Most recently, on May 9, 2014, the Conference of Western Wayne (CWW), a group of 18 wholesale customers in Wayne County representing some 700,000 residents, unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing the concept of a regional authority and seeking participation in the on-going mediation process with the three suburban counties -- Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. 

Comment: The impression I have from these latest developments is that not all suburban communities are in line with Oakland and Macomb County's hard-line stance toward negotiating a new authority, nor do the Wayne County communities fully endorse their county leaders. Given what's at stake, I think as many stakeholders as possible should have a voice in the process of creating the Great Lakes Water and Sewer Authority.

For more about DWSD Update, click here.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mirza Rabbaig: DWSD Loses Veteran Engineer

Sad News -- Over the past weekend, Mirza M. Rabbaig, P.E.,  a 33-year veteran of the DWSD died unexpectedly while visiting his family in India.  He was 64 years old. Mr. Rabbaig is survived by his wife, Shaheen, sons Maseer and Shaheer, and daughter, Sheema.

Mr. Rabbaig was the Head Engineer of the CSO Control Group, and had over thirty years of experience with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Since 1994 he managed the development and implementation of the DWSD's Combined Sewer Overflow Control Program.

Mr. Rabbaig was also active in his community. He was President of his mosque (Muslim Community of Western Suburbs) at this time of his death.  

Comment: I met Mirza only a few times, and didn't know or work with him like many of you did. If any of you have thoughts or stories that you'd like to share with the DWSD community, I'd be glad to publish them. Please e-mail me here and put "Mirza" in the reference field. You're also free to post a comment.   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Oakland County to Study (Again) Alternatives to Remaining with DWSD

Oakland County is reportedly set to spend $500,000 to $3 million for a study of alternatives to remaining with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Crain's Detroit Business published a story here, and the Detroit News reported a similar story here.
Reading these stories reminded me that in April, 2007, Oakland County committed $125,000 to study alternatives to DWSD for drinking water. The Oakland County Commission approved funding this study on April 26, 2007.  This was at the time that Genesee County was looking to form its own authority, the Karegnondi Water Authority, which is now a reality; construction of the first phase of a new intake pipeline began in 2013 and the KWA recently sold its first round of water bonds.  

So what became of the 2007 study of alternatives to DWSD?

I don't know if its the same study, but in 2007 the then Oakland County Drain Commissioner published an extensive, 5 volume "Water and Wastewater Master Plan" prepared by URS Engineers. Volume 4 of the Master Plan is a 125 page "Alternatives Analysis." The "alternatives" being being alternatives to DWSD. 

I haven't thoroughly studied this "Alternatives Analysis," but obviously Oakland County didn't join the Karegnondi Water Authority, and didn't leave DWSD in 2007.  If they're serious about doing so now, this report will offer some clues as to why they might (or why it didn't make sense to do so in 2007). 
But this report also begs the question - why spend upwards of $3 million to update a study that already exists? And if this isn't the report that cost $125,000 in 2007, where is that study?

The Oakland County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet on April 17, 2014, and the $3 million expenditure is on page 17 of their agenda here
For more about DWSD Update, click here.  

Friday, March 28, 2014

Karegnondi Water Authority to Sell $220 Million in Water Bonds for New Pipeline (UPDATED)

The Bond Buyer reported earlier this week [3/26] that the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) is making plans for an initial $220 million bond offering to finance its new 63 mile pipeline, which was first proposed in 2009. Bonds could be sold as early as next week [4/1].  

As the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department's bond rating falls deeper into junk territory, the Karegnondi Water Authority has been assigned an initial A2 rating by Moody's in advance of this first bond sale. 

The Bond Buyer article details some of the particulars about the KWA's bonding offering:

"In light of Flint's severe fiscal distress — the city has been under state controlled emergency management since late 2011 — the bonds feature a back-up pledge from Genesee County.

"The governments expect to make their payments from the system's revenues, but the debt carries the limited-tax general obligation pledge of both credits. Genesee has promised to cover Flint's payments within 15 days if the struggling city is unable to make its payments.

* * *

"Flint is set to no longer receive water from the DWSD as early as April 17, relying on its own water treatment plant and water drawn from the Flint River. The city expects to see significant savings from the move.

"Genesee will pursue a separate contract with the Detroit system through at least 2016. The DWSD and Genesee are also negotiating a separate contract that would require Detroit to provide a long-term emergency stand-by service if the new system fails.
The bonds sold by Genesee County will mature in 30 years and are payable from the water supply contracts as well as Long Term General Obligation (LTGO) pledges of the City of Flint and Genesee County.

For more background on the Karegnondi Water Authority, click here

For more about DWSD Update, click here.

Update (4/2): Bloomberg is reporting (here) that KWA completed its $220 million bond sale yesterday.
"The water agency's sale included debt maturing as late as November 2043 that priced to yield 4.89 percent, or about 1.2 percentage points more than benchmark munis. The securities are rated A2 by Moody's Investor Service, five steps below the top."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Emergency Manager Gives His Account of Failed Negotiations for Regional Water Authority

On March 26, 2014, the Michigan Chronicle published an exclusive interview with Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and asked for his take on why negotiations for a regional water authority (have thus far) failed.

Here are excerpts from that interview:

MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: What really happened in the deal involving the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department that made Oakland and Macomb counties balk?

KEVYN ORR: We tried to design a proposal for them that was responsive in a number of ways. First, it was responsive to their request for decades that they have increased governance control and management of the water department. Suburban communities make up over 65 percent of our revenue. We appreciate that and we want to be responsive. Secondly, it was to make sure that citizens of Detroit continue to own the water department. So the pipes, the lines, switches, the sewerage system, all of that is still going to be owned by the City of Detroit. You can’t replace that overnight. No matter what happens it will be owned by the City of Detroit. Number three, it was to generate sufficient cash from interest rate savings by having a better credit rating department.

Number four, capital improvements. The concerns about capital improvements were going to be addressed, provide a reserve for delinquent accounts that would be replenished yearly. That there will be no delinquencies, rate pressures on the counties customers or city customers and result of rate pressures. And generate a revenue stream of 47 million dollars a year for 40 years for Detroit’s creditors. We thought it was an ideal solution that was going to benefit all parties and be responsive to the requests that people have been talking about.

* * * 

MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: Can you explain what you meant by leasing as an option?

KEVYN ORR: We were going to create an authority, which would essentially lease the department and operate it and pay the city a lease payment. That would be $47 million a year. Our county partners don’t want to do that. That’s fine. So we are going to move away from the lease concept more to a contract. There are operating contractors out there who would bring greater efficiency to the system. That’s what they do. We would also entertain requests for information about an outright purchase. I said when I first came in here I did not want to sell the water department. I still do not want to sell the water department.
But I think because our expectation was that we were going to have an authority deal in fairly short time, that’s what everybody wanted. But I think in order for me to be responsive to our creditor class now that the authority proposal appears to be slipping away, we have to be able to say we explored every avenue to rationalize the key assets of the city. And when I came in I said there are 15 buckets of assets. We’ve dealt with most of them.
Click here to read the full interview with Mr. Orr at the Michigan Chronicle

Photo Credit: Reuters

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

With No Regional Authority in Sight, Emergency Manager issues RFP for Private Operation of DWSD (UPDATED)

On March 21, 2014, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr issued an RFP seeking proposals from potential private operators for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. This RFP comes after negotiations with Oakland and Macomb County stalled. Proposals are due April 7, 2014.

Given the size and complexity of the DWSD system, there are only a few companies that will likely respond to the RFP. I would look for responses from:
The RFP can be viewed or downloaded below. 

For more about DWSD Update, click here  

Update (3/31): The Detroit News is reporting here that Kevyn Orr's office has been in contact with 41 companies who are interested in operating and managing DWSD. The EM's office must be using a loose definition of "interest" as there are only a handful of companies that could qualify to operate a utility as large and complex as DWSD and respond to this RFP in 2 weeks. 

Update (6/6): The Detroit Free reported on Wednesday that Kevyn Orr's office received proposals from two companies.  American Water has confirmed they are in discussions. United Water and Aqua America have confirmed that that did not submit bids. The likely second bidder, Veolia Water North America, would not comment either way. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Detroit’s Plan of Adjustment, and DWSD’s Future: More Work to Be Done

Last Friday [2/21], Detroit’s Emergency Manager published his long-anticipated “Plan for the Adjustment of Debts of the City of Detroit.” These two documents, weighing in at over 600 pages, outline how Kevyn Orr plans to restructure the City’s debts.

The Plan of Adjustment (below) outlines two alternatives for DWSD, but otherwise does not present anything that hasn't already been reported here and here.

Under the first alternative, DWSD would remain part of the City of Detroit. The second alternative would involve the formation of a regional authority. If agreed upon, the Great Lakes Water and Sewer Authority (GLWA), which would lease and operate the assets of DWSD.

How much money the new authority would pay the City has been hotly contested, and remains the subject of on-going negotiations with Oakland and Macomb Counties. The Emergency Manager’s original $200 million per year offer quickly dropped to$49 million per year over 20 years.

Alternative 1

If DWSD remains part of the City of Detroit, the Department would retain FY 2015 rate setting protocols for a minimum of 5 years, but immediately following the Effective Date of the Plan of Adjustment the City would begin planning a “rate stability” program for City residents. This plan would be taken into account in the development of wholesale rates across the system.

Comment: There is no detail provided as to the "rate stability" program mentioned in the Plan. It sounds to me like a cap on future rate increases for City residents, that will be factored into by the wholesale (suburban) customer base. Is this a good thing, like an insurance pool where the healthy subsidize the sick, or is it just a subsidy? Does it matter when we're talking about something as fundamental as water? 

In addition, there would be an adjustment of DWSD’s bond debt and the issuance of new bonds. Unlike other bond holders, water and sewer debt would be paid off in full. The “New Existing Rate DWSD Bonds” would also allow for the lease or transfer to a new authority. Thus, even if the Emergency Manager can’t make a deal with suburban communities in the short term, there’s room made for a regional authority down the road. 

Alternative 2

If the Emergency Manager can strike a deal with DWSD’s suburban customers, this would lead to the formation of the Great Lakes Water and Sewer Authority. 

This alternative is Kevyn Orr’s preferred alternative, but it must overcome mounting suspicion that the suburbs are being rushed into buying a dilapidated water and sewer system with huge unknown costs and future liabilities. 

For more about DWSD Update, click here

Saturday, February 8, 2014

State of Michigan to Join Stalled Negotiations for New Regional Water Authority (UPDATED)

The Bond Buyer* reported on Friday (here) that representatives of Governor Snyder and the City of Detroit's investment banking firm, Miller Buckfire, will meet next Tuesday, February 11th, with representatives of Oakland County in an effort to jump-start stalled negotiations for the creation of a regional water authority.

Robert J. Daddow
"The state has not stepped up to deal with the issues, though they have been at the table," Oakland County deputy executive Robert Daddow said in an interview Friday "I am hopeful that this Tuesday meeting coming up will solve the issues or set in motion something to solve them."
The state and Detroit, represented by the city's investment banking firm Miller Buckfire, are expected to address the county's two top concerns Tuesday, Daddow said. That includes lack of adequate financial information and the county's worry that several of the governments in the system won't have the money to pay their bills or the large capital needs looming in the next decade.
Oakland County is one of three suburban counties that have balked at Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr's proposal citing a lack of information with which to evaluate the costs and risks associated with taking over the DWSD system. 

Comment: I'm glad to see Governor Snyder's office getting involved in this process.  The State of Michigan needs to participate, and contribute financially in order to get the Great Lakes Water Authority off the ground. 

* The Bond Buyer is a subscription based publication. This article is available through Westlaw at 2014 WLNR 3489653, and other databases, such as Gale's Infotrac. 

Update (2/12): The Detroit News reports here that Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties met on Tuesday, but the article does not mention anyone from the State of Michigan. Does anyone know whether the State participated in the meeting? And if not, why not?
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Friday, February 7, 2014

Oakland County to Study Plans for Regional Water Authority

On February 6, 2013, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners formed a study committee to evaluate the plans for a regional water authority offered by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.
The committee will gather information about DWSD's finances, consider the impact on water and sewer rates, hold a series of public meetings to gather public feedback. Commissioner Robert Gosselin will chair the study committee.   

For more about DWSD Update, click here.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Guest Editorial: Emergency Manager's Plan for New Water Authority Falls Short

By: James Lang*
A gross inequity exists in the plans to disentangle Detroit from debt, in part by reorganizing the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).

As owner of DWSD, the City of Detroit is responsible for capital investments, including major improvements and replacements.  If that responsibility were being met, then perhaps the City would be justified in requiring lease payments from ratepayers as part of the conversion of DWSD to a regional authority.

But the city doesn’t have the cash or credit to rebuild DWSD, the city’s (purported) capital asset.

It appears to me that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and other city leaders want to rely on the ratepayers’ credit worthiness to pay for capital improvements and replacements (as if the ratepayers were the owners), as well as requiring ratepayers to make lease payments to the city (as if they were renters).  Bear in mind that the system was never intended to be a cash cow for the City of Detroit. Rates were not supposed to include a profit margin.

Let’s face it, DWSD's infrastructure is old and worn out, with negative or negligible value.  No sooner is one cluster of belt presses, incinerators or water mains replaced than another one breaks down.  Nick Carey of Reuters on December 16, 2013 quoted an Oakland County official [Gerald Poisson, deputy executive for Oakland County] who said he had seen estimates of $20 billion to upgrade the system in coming years.

The only value in this whole scenario is the revenue stream flowing from city (20%) and suburban (80%) ratepayers.

It’s one thing to require that ratepayers take over the responsibility to rebuild DWSD.  It’s something entirely different to also require that they make lease payments to the city for the “privilege” of assuming ownership responsibilities.

If conversion to a regional authority goes through, the savings realized by refinancing debt and cutting costs should accrue to the ratepayers without being offset by so-called lease payments to the city.

* James Lang earned his undergraduate degree from  Case Western Reserve University (B.A.) and his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School (J.D.). Mr. Lang practiced law in Flint for many years, and formerly served as a Board Member of Legal Services of Eastern Michigan. In 2012 and 2013, Mr. Lang was a guest lecturer at MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. His interests include the Great Lakes, water quality and transparency in government. You may contact James Lang at  --

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Oakland County, Brooks Patterson Still Not Buying EM's Plan for Regional Water Authority (UPDATED)

The Detroit Free Press reports this morning that Oakland County Executive, L. Brooks Patterson is still sounding pessimistic about the Emergency Manager's revised plan for a regional water authority.  

“I tell my team no deal is better than a bad deal — and right now it’s a bad deal, so we’re probably going to walk,” Patterson told a crowd of public officials at Governing magazine’s Outlook in the States & Localities conference.

Question: So, if Oakland County doesn't want to participate in a new regional water and sewer authority, what's Plan B look like?   

Update (2/5): The Detroit News reports this morning that suburban leaders are still asking DWSD and the Emergency Manager for "more information" to evaluate the the proposed new authority. What's missing, and why can't DWSD fill in the gaps? Are Oakland and Macomb Counties seeking answers, or a degree of certainty that does not exist? I think we can agree there are "known unknowns" that will have to be addressed (and paid for) as they arise.

Update (2/19): is reporting here that Detroit officials delivered some of the long-awaited financial data to Oakland County officials earlier this week. Suburban officials had been seeking the 2013 audited financial reports for DWSD. The article does not indicate whether that's the specific data that was produced, and DWSD's website is still only showing the 2012 report.      

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