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Revamped Detroit water board gets down to business today

Published: April 26, 2011| By John Wisely

The region's latest attempt at achieving peace in the decades-long water war between Detroit and the suburbs begins at 2 p.m. today.

The newly constituted Detroit Board of Water Commissioners meets for the first time, though most of the new members have met through orientations.

The seven-member board includes five new faces, agreed to as part of a court order Feb. 11.

Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties were allowed to choose their representatives on the board under the order. Their members were approved by Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.

Detroit has four representatives on the board; a super-majority of five votes is required for major expenditures and rate increases.

"I can't say I have enough knowledge to even ask the most pertinent questions, let alone draw conclusions yet," said Fred Barnes, a former head engineer with the Macomb County Public Works Office, who now represents Macomb. "When I accepted the job, I accepted a challenge."

The board's agenda includes voting on spending more than $20 million on everything from pumps, parts and treatment chemicals. Some board members plan tours and workshops to better understand the operations of the department.

"I think it will mean a greater level of cooperation with our suburban customers," said board president Mary Blackmon, who represents Detroit.

The department, which provides water to 4.3 million customers in the region, faces many challenges:

• A search for a new director.

• Major pollution violations in the Detroit River.

• Thirty-four years of federal oversight resulting from a pollution lawsuit.

• Lingering suspicions in the city and the suburbs.

U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, who took over the pollution lawsuit case in December, has told board members he wants to see "substantial compliance" with pollution rules by Aug. 1. Cox has said he would like to wind down the lawsuit, which began in 1977.

Also representing Detroit are Bradley Kenoyer of Ford, Linda Forte of Comerica Bank and former Lions defensive back Jim Thrower. Wayne and Oakland counties are represented by attorneys James Fausone and J. Bryan Williams, respectively.

Source: Detroit Free Press
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