The Flint City Council just passed a controversial long-term water deal in a 5 to 4 vote on Nov. 21.
Detroit U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson gave the council permission to vote on the deal after holding a mediation meeting with the city council, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Genesee County Drain Commissioner, Great Lakes Water Authority (GWLA) and the Karegnondi Water Authority, MLive reports.
"He's not telling us how to vote, just that we have to vote on the contract by tomorrow," said council leader Herbert Winfrey. He mentioned that Lawson had been "more than patient" with the council. While the deal wasn't optimal, he said, "there are now some deal sweeteners in there that will certainly benefit the citizens of Flint."
One of the "sweeteners" that had been added to the bill earlier that day was an amendment to appoint a qualified Flint representative to the six-member GWLA board, which determines water rates. The city would also receive $750,000 for water bill relief.
In addition to the other provisions, $100 million from the fund for Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act would become immediately available to Flint. The state of Michigan will also be able to request that the General Motors Engine Plant begin using Flint's water supply again.
The MDEQ and city of Flint have been in a legal battle since June, when the MDEQ sued Flint for not having a long-term water source. The city had switched from the Flint River in 2015 after realizing the severe levels of lead in the water, which was harming residents. Since then, Flint has used short-term contracts with GWLA, the latest of which expires on Nov. 30.
Both Gov. Rick Snyder and Mayor Karen Weaver approved the signing of a 30-year contract with GWLA, but the city council had hesitated because they did not feel that they were informed enough to make the decision for citizens. Weaver says there was a lot of "misinformation" about the bill, The Detroit News reports.
"I was glad that our city attorney cleared those points up because they were not accurate," she said.
Citizens of Flint encouraged the council members to vote "no" on the bill up until the end. Residents wanted the city to sue for being required to make a decision so quickly. They disapproved of the deal because it went too long without caps on monthly water bills, which regularly escalate and are one of the highest in the country.
"The smart vote tonight would be not to vote at all," said 60-year-old Mike Keeler, a resident of Flint. "This is going to be a bad decision for us."
Councilwoman Kate Fields explained her reasons for voting "no" in a statement before the vote. She accused the city, state and judge of preventing them "from obtaining an unbiased analysis of all options."
Weaver said that delaying to make the deal has already cost the city $6.7 million and would eventually push the city to bankruptcy. Now that the council has approved the deal, Weaver says it's "time to move forward."