Wayne County Circuit Court judge sets May deadline in Highland Park water fight

Current outstanding total is $24 million plus

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. – A Wayne County Circuit Court judge has told Highland Park and the Great Lakes Water Authority it needs a payment plan by May 31.

The two entities have been in litigation for the past 10 years over Highland Park’s non-payment of water and sewer bills.

The current outstanding total is $24 million plus.

Earlier this week, Highland Park’s City Council voted to petition Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer requesting she authorizes the city to go into Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy and were hoping for that designation by Thursday (April 20).

That didn’t happen.

A significant process needs to be completed for that designation; This means the city and the utility must work out a payment framework.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller is encouraged an end to this mess is in sight.

“I think Highland Park certainly has to be getting the message the gig is up, and they have to pay something going forward,” said Miller. “They just can’t have all the other communities absorb their debt.”

The official response from the city came in Miller’s statement.

The city has spent the past 10 years in a non-resolved creditor dispute with DWSD/GLWA. In 2014, the city chose the neutral evaluation process under PA 436, which was a pre-bankruptcy mediation.”

The court case against the city held at least three mediations, with the last one being overturned by the court of appeals resulting in its reversal after DWSD/GLWA agreed to settle and pay Highland Park $1,000,000 for overcharges.

Payment plans have been rejected by GLWA staff numerous times since 2014 and during all the various court proceedings which ordered mediations.

Highland Park is hopeful that this court-ordered facilitation by Judge Edward Joseph will allow for the extended payment plan that the city has wanted since 2014, which DWSD/GLWA has refused because they wanted a tax levy.

GLWA issued a statement on the matter.

“The Great Lakes Water Authority is pleased with the trial court’s reinstatement of the $19 million judgment. Today’s ruling is consistent with the Michigan Court of Appeals’ August 18, 2022, Opinion and Order, requiring reinstatement and enforcement of the judgment. Further, the Authority is ready to resume facilitation with the city of Highland Park as instructed by the trial court. The Authority remains committed to working with all parties involved to come to an amicable solution within the timeframe outlined by the Court.”

Suzanne R. Coffey, P.E. Chief Executive Officer

Read: Highland Park mayor asks Whitmer to approve municipal bankruptcy over $19M water, sewage debt

More: $24M bill has Highland Park families worried about water shutoffs

About the Authors:

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.