Under contractor EMA, which caused 2012 Toronto flood, Wastewater Treatment Plant runs with skeleton crew, grossly negligent maintenance
WWTP retirees advocate cancellation of $5.2 B water/sewerage debt in Detroit bankruptcy: “Re-financing” will profit banks, not people
Call for end to pension cuts, water shut-offs
Protest at BOWC meeting 735 Randolph 1 p.m. Fri. Aug. 22; Freedom Friday 4 p.m. at same location; Stop pension cuts, water shutoffs 4:45 pm CAYMC; Water shut-offs resume Aug. 25; Bankruptcy trial, protest re-set for Sept. 2
By Diane Bukowski
August 20, 2014
DETROIT – City retirees from Detroit’s Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) said at a press conference Aug. 13 that workforce cuts resulting in grossly negligent sewage pump maintenance caused the massive flooding of metro Detroit freeways and homes Aug. 11 to Aug. 12, leading to three deaths and untold property damage.
They said Detroit pump failures also played a major role in the Toledo, Ohio water emergency that began Aug 3. During the weeks-long crisis, 430,000 residents of that city and parts of southeastern Michigan could not use municipal water to drink, bathe, cook, or wash dishes as it was contaminated with toxic algae and other substances. Authorities told them that even boiling water would not remove the toxins.
“Monies that should have been allocated to improvements in our infrastructure and helped employ people went to the banks in illegal deals instead,” said Bill Davis, who worked 34 years at the plant and retired as a shift supervisor. “That $5 billion going to the banks under the bankruptcy plan should instead be going to the people, to rebuild our system.”
The previous week, Detroit’s Board of Water Commissioners and the City Council approved a “re-financing” of DWSD debt ordered by EM Kevyn Orr. The Michigan Finance Authority approved the re-financing deal Aug. 12.
Their actions make over $2 billion of the $5.2 billion debt, originally “impaired” (reduced) under the plan, subject to full payment. The deal, while claiming to ensure lower interest rates for DWSD bonds, closely resembles the gamble on Wall Street interest rates involved in the $1.5 billion “Certificates of Participation” loan of 2005-06. Detroit defaulted on that loan after the Wall Street crash of 2008. (For complete release and presentation, cick on: pr2014-08-06-2014_Bond_Refinance_Release_final_2014 and bowc_pr_tender_refunding_moneyplan_2014-08-06.)
The lenders, instead of taking the city’s proposed 40 percent of the total $2.5 billion still outstanding on the loan due to interest rates and penalties, are demanding full payment. This is despite the fact that even Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr called the loan “void ab initio, illegal and unenforceable” in a lawsuit filed in bankruptcy court Jan. 17.
“If you have a basement flooded right now, thank Gov. Rick Snyder and Kevyn Orr,” Davis said. “That money should have been clawed back from the banks, not from the retirees. At one time we were under federal review because we were polluting and almost killed Lake Erie, now we’ve gone back to that. I’m surprised that people of Toledo are not calling Gov. Snyder every day.”
Mike Mulholland, president of AFSCME Local 207, and also a WWTP retiree, said that the plant director and many staff members are now from EMA, Inc., an engineering consultant firm based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“They have reduced staffing to a skeleton crew,” Mulholland said. “Although there was a torrential rain Monday, the sewage pumps already were not working properly due to minimal maintenance. It is EMA’s intention to strip the plant down and run it remotely as much as it can. Instead of 24/7 maintenance, they only check equipment every few days. The pumping stations at the plant, the incinerators, and other equipment are close to catastrophic failure.”
Davis told VOD that one of the two largest pumps in WWTP Station #1 is out of service, while only five of seven pumps in WWTP Station #2 are working. He said DWSD director Sue McCormick is promoting unqualified white staff to positions previously held by well-trained Black workers who have retired or been laid off.
“She doesn’t want to see Black faces around there,” Davis said. DWSD has had predominantly Black workers for years. Davis added that Black city retirees are the most affected by cuts to their annuity savings plan payments under the bankruptcy plan, since those cuts affect only those who retired beginning in 2003.
The dismantling of the WWTP is especially dangerous because it is the only plant out of five run by DWSD that treats wastewater for runoff and sewage before it is released into the environment. It serves the needs of a 946 square mile six-county area including Detroit and 76 other communities.
Under previous federal oversight by U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox, who is now taking part in bankruptcy mediation related to DWSD, EMA, Inc. recommended that 81 percent of the department’s workforce be eliminated. While supervising sewage plants in Toronto, EMA caused similar floods of subways and basements during a downpour in 2011.
“Along with the water shut-offs, they want to run our water system on the cheap and make it ripe for privatization,” Mulholland said. He agreed with Davis that sewage overflow from the WWTP, running downriver into Lake Erie, contributed to the build-up of poisonous “algae blooms” that caused the crisis in Toledo.
“We are killing the lakes that make this place liveable,” Mullholland said.
“The whole purpose of the takeover of the WWTP in 1977 was to bring Lake Erie back. We did bring it back, with hard work, adequate staffing, and training, but now we’re going backward to 1977.”
A report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detailed the transformation of Lake Erie over that time, due to efforts to control phosphorus concentration and sewage over flow from wastewater treatment plants feeding into the Lake.
“The result was greater than a 90% reduction in phosphorus concentration and loading from the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant,” the EPA report said. “Similar reductions occurred in other wastewater treatment plants, however, because of the Detroit plant’s 700 million gallon per day flow, the impact on Lake Erie was substantial. The Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant would become the single largest reason for the reversal of cultural eutrophication [algae and other plant takeover] of Lake Erie during the 1970s and 1980s. Lake Erie responded with dramatic improvements in water quality.”
In addition to EMA’s dismantling of the WWTP, legal analyst Carl Williams noted that “change orders,” barred by Art. 11 Sec. 3 of the Michigan Constitution, have jacked up DWSD contractors’ profits by billions over the years, to the detriment of ratepayers, workers, and services.
“It cannot be ‘extra compensation’ under the constitution,” Williams said. “These contractors low bid to get the contract, then come back and jack the price up. Detroit is a cash cow. Now that more people are aware, maybe we can stop the looting of Detroit under this illegal bankruptcy.”
Art. 11 Sec. 3 of the state constitution says, “Neither the legislature nor any political subdivision of this state shall grant or authorize extra compensation to any public officer, agent or contractor after the service has been rendered or the contract entered into.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan denied any malfunctions at DWSD caused the floods, in a release.
“Despite the extraordinarily heavy downpour, DWSD’s operational systems suffered no failures and by design excess water was discharged into the Detroit River as rapidly as possible in an effort to prevent flooding,” Duggan said. “Unfortunately, the volume of rain—over five inches in some areas—overwhelmed sewer systems, causing widespread flooding.” Duggan said.
Similar denials were issued by Toronto Mayor and alleged crackhead Rob Ford in 2012.
City officials noted that flooding of this type [raw sewage] also presents health concerns and risks,” the Detroit release continued. “City residents who experienced basement flooding are advised to contact local restoration services to dry and disinfect their belongings. If your skin has come into contact with sewer water, be sure to wash thoroughly with anti‐bacterial soap immediately afterward.”
The release also advised residents to clear the storm drains in front of their houses, as if that were the cause for the flooding.
“I remember when the City of Detroit not only cleaned our neighborhood streets several times a year, but also brought trucks with vacuum hoses to suction the sewage out of blocked drains,” Cornell Squires said. “That what we pay taxes for and that’s why we should cancel DWSD’s debt.”
In Toledo and parts of lower southeastern Michigan Aug. 3, authorities told 430,000 residents not to use to the area’s water to drink, bathe, brush their teeth, wash dishes or cook, because a toxic algae bloom had caused a large dead spot in the lake, taking it back to conditions from the 1970’s. Even boiling the water would not remove the toxins, authorities said.
Truckloads of bottled water were delivered from across the state, in scenes eerily similar to the creation of “water hubs” supplying bottled water in Detroit neighborhoods where residents had their water shut off in droves for minor delinquencies in payments.
The Ohio National Guard used water purification systems to produce drinkable water. In southeastern Michigan, authorities operated water stations for 30,000 customers affected by the toxic contamination.
The AP reported, “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a satellite image showing a small but concentrated algae bloom centered right where Toledo draws its water supply, said Jeff Reutter, head of the Ohio Sea Grant research lab. ‘The amount of phosphorus going into the lake has risen every year since the mid-1990s. We’re right back to where we were in the ’70s,’ Reutter said.”
Oakland County confirmed the allegations of WWTP retirees in a bankruptcy court objection to the Plan of Adjustment, concurred in by Macomb and Wayne Counties.
“The City’s Plan, which includes $2.9 billion in funding for its proposed Capital Improvement Program (“CIP”) over the next 10 years, fails to appropriately budget for the very significant capital improvements that are necessary to maintain the water and wastewater systems in good repair and provide reliable service.
“The DWSD continues to maintain its systems, at best, on an ‘as needed basis’ only, failing to adequately inspect, service, and maintain systems in accordance with normal industry standards. Capital improvements which are deferred pursuant to the City’s projections will likely cause catastrophic failures that will compromise public health, safety, and welfare.”
Instead of calling for cuts to the banks and contractors, however, the Oakland County objection blames delinquent water bills in Detroit. Detroiters are already penalized for these by higher sewerage rates, and the addition of outstanding bills to their property tax accounts.
Such suburban allegations sparked EM Orr’s order to shut off water to 170,000 Detroit homes last month. After local protests and global attention, Orr agreed to a pause in shut-offs, which is due to end Aug. 25.
During a meeting prior to the retirees’ press conference, U.S. Rep. John Conyers spoke on various issues including the water shut-offs. He said he would investigate the possibility of introducing a bill in the U.S. Congress to completely ban water shut-offs as a threat to the public health and safety, like the laws that exist in the United Kingdom and other countries.
- The Sierra Club has called on those who oppose the dismantling of DWSD and the City of Detroit, as well as water shut-offs, to attend a Special Meeting of the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners tomorrow, Aug. 22, at 1 p.m. at 735 Randolph, the Water Board building.
- Detroit Freedom Friday 15: August 22, 2014 4:00 pm at the DWSD downtown office, 735 Randolph Detroit 4:30 pm – March through the financial district to Coleman A. Young Municipal Center to join religious leaders in a protest against the water shutoffs and the attacks on City of Detroit workers’ pensions at 4:45 pm.
- The start of the bankruptcy trial has been changed again! The new date is Tuesday, September 2. Consequently, the demonstration will be on Tuesday, September 2, beginning at 8:30am. To endorse the demonstration please call 248-470-0296 or email endorsement to firstname.lastname@example.org For more details, please visit Demonstrate Outside Bankruptcy Court – Aug. 29 – Start of Detroit Bankruptcy Trial.
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