Monday, October 11, 2010

House Candidate Kurt Heise Proposes Regional Water Authority for Southeast Michigan

The former Director of the Wayne County Department of Environment, and Republican candidate for the open 20th District House seat in Plymouth, Kurt Heise, has outlined a 6-point plan for replacing the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) with a new regional water authority (Southeast Michigan Water Quality Authority). Heise envisions a regional authority operated by a private company.
My plan would keep ownership of the system with the people of Detroit, but would transfer decision making to a regional board elected by community customers of which Detroit would be a member," Heise said. "State law would also be amended to allow the new Authority to refinance existing and future improvements, saving hundreds of millions of dollars that could stabilize water bills and provide new investment for infrastructure repair both in Detroit and the suburbs.
Mr. Heise is not the first to to promoting the idea of a regional authority -- legislation was introduced in 1999 (S.B. 781) and again in 2003 (H.B. 4206) -- nor is he alone. Earlier this year, in April, 2010, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan issued a report (here) which detailed the financial benefits to the City of Detroit of selling DWSD to a regional authority.  Op-Ed pieces in the Detroit Free Press (here) have also pointed in the same direction. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy also advanced the idea almost 10 years ago in several articles (here and here).


Update: The chorus of voices calling for a regional approach to water and sewer matters has grown louder following the federal indictments announced on December 15, 2010. Many of the allegations focus on corruption within DWSD.


manisonenmi said...

The problem is not Detroit selling DWSD to pay off its debts/balance the budget. The problem is: What would Detroit do five years later? Because they would have spent (irresponsibly most likely) all the revenues form the sale. What would they sell afterwards to bail them out?

JWilly said...

A considerable amount of DWSD's capacity and infrastructure exists to service northern customers, including Genesee County. Genesee County is proceeding full tilt with its own regional water plan, Karegnondi, justified by the extraordinarily high and rapid rate increases that DWSD began to impose following the Karegnondi project's initiation of a relationship with DWSD's leaders.

The Karegnondi project will create some very expensive infrastructure. Once it's in place, Detroit won't get those customers back.

If the RWASM idea is to go forward, one might think its highest priority might be to roll back its northern-customer rates to equitable levels, and legally assure equitable rates over the long term. Clearly it would be to RWASM's benefit, capacity-utilization-wise, if such a rate rollback called into question the financial justification for Karegnondi, and thereby RWASM kept its northern customers.

RWASM's supporters also should do what they can to achieve prompt disclosure of DWSD's past relationship with Karegnondi's proponents. Northern-customer decisionmakers need to know that their support for building all that duplicate infrastructure has been based on truth, and that there aren't more legally questionable circumstances to be revealed.