Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How NOT to Plan a New Suburban Water System

Distrustful of Detroit’s intentions toward its wholesale customers in the suburbs concerning future water services, Oakland and Macomb counties are considering building their own freshwater intake, treatment and distribution system.

Steps have been taken to study the feasibility of creating a new regional authority that would draw water from Lake St. Clair, treat it and pipe it westward across the two counties.

A similar plan in Chicago’s southern suburbs is a cautionary tale.

In 2011, seven small Chicago suburbs (Alsip, Blue Island, Calumet Park, Harvey, Markham, Midlothian and Robbins), dissatisfied with the rapidly increasing cost of Chicago water, formed an agency to study and plan their own water system.

The South Suburban Joint Action Water Agency borrowed $5.6 million in 2012 to determine feasibility and plan for construction, which was expected to cost $300 million and take three years.

To date, the agency is thought to have spent all but $1 million, and they haven’t even determined the intake site yet.

Major portions of the spending thus far have gone in no-bid contracts to cronies and/or political campaign contributors of the municipal officials running the agency.

Most of the small towns involved are deeply in debt to Chicago for past water consumption.  The $5.6 million meant to finance planning is expected to double by the time the bonds mature.  These are not terribly prosperous communities, but their taxpayers and ratepayers will have to take the hit as the result of the careless, reckless or corrupt spending of community leaders.

Obviously, the circumstances in Detroit’s northern suburbs are significantly different.  The caliber of governance is higher.  The communities are more numerous and many of them enjoy fiscal health. Nevertheless, transparency in contracting and spending should be a high priority as studies about a new water system progress.

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