Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oakland Macomb Interceptor -- Court Orders Repair Schedule for OMI

Earlier today, the U.S. District Court (Judge John Feikens) entered an "Order Establishing Compliance Schedule for Interceptor Repairs," which establishes a schedule for upcoming repairs to the Oakland Macomb Interceptor (OMI). The Court entered this order following a request by Macomb County that a repair schedule be set by the Court. Ownership of the OMI is scheduled to pass from the City of Detroit (DWSD) to Oakland and Macomb Counties shortly.

The Court's June 30, 2009 Order sets an 8 year repair schedule, which is much longer than the 5 year schedule outlined at the June 10, 2009 public hearing on the OMI project. Its unclear why an 3 extra years was tacked onto the schedule when significant portions of the 21 mile long sewer are severely deteriorated and reportedly in danger of collapse.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monica Conyer's Resigns

Earlier today, "Council Member A," Monica Conyers, submitted her letter of resignation. Enough said.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Synagro Scandal: The Timeline

For those of you who are following the Synagro Scandal, or want more of the back story, the Detroit News updated its blow-by-blow timeline of the scandal (here) to include Monica Conyer's recent conviction.

Update (11/18/2011):  Apparently the Detroit News has moved the above cited story behind a pay wall. Not to fear. The Detroit Free Press published a similar timeline in July, 2010, which is still an active link here.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Synagro Scandal, "Council Member A" Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charge

Ending months of speculation, Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers pleaded guilty today to a single charge of conspiracy to commit bribery in connection with approval of the $1.2 billion Synagro sludge contract in 2007. Ms. Conyers accepted payments totaling $6,000 in exchange for her vote.

In his statement, U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg closed the door Friday on additional prosecutions of elected Detroit City Council members in a corruption probe in connection with a sludge-hauling contract.
“Today’s guilty plea by Ms. Conyers marks the completion of the government’s investigation of the role that elected members of the Detroit City Council had in approving the Synagro contract, though the investigation regarding the Synagro contract continues as to others,” he said. “This investigation has not uncovered evidence sufficient to support charging any other elected members of the Detroit City Council with taking bribes or engaging in acts of corruption relating to the Synagro contract.”
Click here for the rest of the story from Crain's Detroit Business, and here for the Detroit Free Press story.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Genesee County Proposes $600 Million Water Pipeline, New Water Authority

A month after applying to withdraw up to 85 million gallons a day from Lake Huron, Genesee County today laid out an ambitious plan to construct its own water supply system. The projected cost is $600 million.
Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright told representatives of communities in Genesee, Lapeer and Sanilac counties at a meeting on June 25th that construction on the pipeline project could start by this time next year. He added that the chance to build the pipeline might never come again.
"If we don't take this opportunity -- in 30 years there won't be another opportunity to build this," Wright said. "Interest rates are favorable right now and there are government programs that could help pay" the cost of the borrowing.
The $600-million construction estimate includes the cost of several pumping stations, an inland reservoir in Lapeer County, twin pipelines along part of the route and water treatment facilities in each of the three counties. Wright said the pipeline construction would create more than 500 jobs for three to five years.

The pipeline would be owned by a new Karegnondi Water Authority, which could include the city of Flint, the city of Lapeer, Sanilac County, Lapeer County, Genesee County and St. Clair County.

Communities that agree to join the authority would pay a proportional share of the cost of building the pipeline, according to Wright. He said his goal is to establish the authority within 120 days, complete engineering, design and surveying work in the next nine months, and start construction of the buried pipeline by the time next year.

[Note: Although Oakland contributed $125,000 to a joint study looking at the feasibility of a new regional water authority in 2007, it does not appear that they are ready to join Genesee County as part of the new Karegnondi Water Authority.]

Detroit City Council Approves Rate Increase, Reluctantly

Just 2 days after it rejected an increase in rates, the Detroit City Council earlier today voted today 4-3 to approve an 8% hike in water and sewer rates. Monica Conyers, who voted against the increase on Tuesday, was absent for today's vote. Reports the Detroit News --
The Detroit City Council today passed a water rate increase, averting a potential move by a U.S. District judge to unilaterally set higher rates for 4 million customers in 126 communities.

Customers are set to see bills go up about 8 percent, an amount Detroit Water Department officials say is needed to bolster declining revenues and counter surging interest rates on money the system has borrowed for capital improvements.

The measure passed in a 4-3 vote this afternoon. Members JoAnn Watson, Kwame Kenyatta and Brenda Jones continued their stance on not supporting the proposal that hurts city residents who are facing substantial financial issues. Monica Conyers, who voted against the measure Tuesday, was absent, as was Martha Reeves.

For the complete story, click here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Water, Sewer Rate Increase Rejected by City Council

Earlier today, Detroit City Council rejected the 2009-2010 rate increases proposed by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. In March, DWSD proposed 5.1% water and 15.8% sewer rate increases for Detroit residents. Suburban customers would see wholesale increases of 8.9% for water and 2.4% for sewer rates.

One alternative for DWSD would be to request the U.S. District Court to order a rate increase. Judge John Feikens, who has had superintending control over the Department since 1977, has previously allowed DWSD to by-pass the Detroit City Council on such matters as approval of contracts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Synagro Scandal, Monica Conyers Identified as "Council Member A"

Crain's Detroit Business is reporting that Monica Conyers is "Council Member A" in the Rayford Jackson indictment. Council Member A allegedly received $6,000 from representatives of Synagro to vote in favor of the sludge contract in the Fall of 2007.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Synagro Scandal, Second Conviction in Tainted Sludge Contract

Earlier today, Detroit businessman Rayford Jackson pleaded guilty in federal court to paying more than $6,000 in bribes to an unnamed Detroit City Council member in order to influence the award a contract to Synagro. Below is a copy of the charges that were filed against Mr. Jackson in May, and recently unsealed. A copy of Mr. Jackson's plea agreement is here.

In January, DWSD formally terminated its contract with Synagro following the conviction of James Rosendall.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oakland Macomb Interceptor Drain - Macomb County Petitions Court to Order a Repair Schedule

On June 12, 2009, Macomb County filed a motion in U.S. District Court requesting that Judge John Feikens enter an order that would establish a schedule for the repairs to the Oakland Macomb Interceptor (OMI) Drain. The details of this project were reported in an earlier post.

[Note: While a construction compliance order will make it easier for Macomb and Oakland Counties to secure State Revolving Fund (SRF) funding, it suggests that Judge John Feikens' 32 year oversight of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will not only continue, but expand northward into Oakland and Macomb Counties. Is this sort of thing a good idea? ]

Friday, June 12, 2009

Oakland Macomb Interceptor (OMI) - Repair Project Outlined at Public Hearing

At a June 10, 2009 public hearing, representatives from Oakland and Macomb County outlined a significant new project to repair and rehabilitate the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor (OMI).

The OMI is a 21 mile length of sanitary sewer that is currently owned by the City of Detroit (DWSD). Under
an agreement reached in December, 2008, and confirmed on May 12, 2009, ownership of the OMI will be transferred to Oakland and Macomb Counties. Since the OMI is the sole source of sanitary sewerage disposal for 830,000 suburban residents, and portions of the OMI have deteriorated severely since it was constructed by DWSD in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Macomb County believes that it is critically important that repairs to the OMI proceed under a court-ordered construction schedule.

The OMI Drain Repair Project is estimated to cost $160 million. The project will be competitively bid in the traditional manner (design-bid-build) under 3 to 4 separate contracts, the first of which is scheduled for bids by Fall, 2009. While a formal engineering contract has yet to be awarded, NTH Consultants is the leading candidate for the project.

The Owner for the project will be a new public authority (intercounty drain) formed under Chapter 21 of the Michigan Drain Code.

Chapter 21 of the Drain Code permits a "public corporation" (city, village, township, etc) to petition the Department of Agriculture for the establishment of intercounty drain when necessary for the public health. The costs for the drain project are set by an intercounty drainage board composed of the drain commissioner of each affected county and the director of the Department of Agriculture, and are apportioned to each public corporation based on the benefits that each public corporation receives from the project and the extent to which the public corporation contributed to the conditions making the drain necessary. Affected public corporations are assessed the costs of the project and may levy taxes for the payment of the assessment irrespective of any statutory or charter taxation limit.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cheboygan Drain Commissioner May Fight Genesee County Water Withdrawal Request

The Detroit News reports that the Cheboygan County Drain Commissioner, Daniel Lennox, has threatened a lawsuit in response to Genesee County's petition with the MDEQ to withdraw up to 85 million gallons a day from Lake Huron.

The News does not report the legal basis for the threatened lawsuit.

Maybe the Cheboygan County Drain Commissioner, who writes the blog -- "Fire Dennis Lennox" -- has too much time on his hands and should be looking for something else to do.

[Update: A June 11, 2009 editorial in the Flint Journal calls Daniel Lennox's threatened lawsuit "absurd".
"Lennox's wild-eyed claims either demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the [Great Lakes Compact], or, as Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright said on Monday, the lawsuit threat is political grandstanding."

If Cheboygan County makes good on its threat, we'll post a story on the factual and legal basis of the lawsuit. ]

Thursday, June 4, 2009

DWSD Cancels Upper Rouge Tunnel Contract

The Detroit Free Press (here) and Environment News Service Newswire (here) report that on May 29, 2009, the City of Detroit (DWSD) canceled the contract for the Upper Rouge Tunnel CSO project.
"The tunnel was designed to be 30 feet in diameter. It would have run parallel the Rouge River, mostly under park space, 160 feet below ground from Pembroke Avenue and Berg to Warren Avenue and West Outer Drive. The tunnel was intended to cut the frequency of overflow events from about 50 a year to fewer than one a year, reducing the overflow from an average of 1.3 billion gallons to 250 million gallons annually." (ENS)
This story was also reported here by Water and Wastes Digest.