17K may lose water due to unpaid bills
Detroit — More than 17,000 residential customers in the city are at risk of having their water shut off because of delinquent bills, city officials say.
The Water and Sewerage Department plans to begin visiting homes on May 1 with door hangers warning of shut-offs if those customers don’t take steps to resolve their outstanding water bills.
Gary Brown, director of the water department, said customers will have seven days to respond to the notice before crews can disconnect their water service.
Brown said he expects to shut off water at 2,000 of the homes at risk because 90 percent typically respond before it comes to that. Those shutoffs will happen between May and December. The water department provides three notices and a door hanger warning for households at risk of a shut-off, Brown said.
There are 17,461 households vulnerable to a water service interruption.
“The message we are trying to get out is come in and avoid the service interruption,” said Brown, who notes most accounts turned off are restored within 24 hours.
Last April, there were 17,995 customers at risk of water shutoffs, a figure that dropped to 9,916 by May and 3,194 by July, according to the water department. In April 2016, 23,047 households were at risk.
Officials say the water department turned off 17,689 residential water accounts for delinquency in 2017 and about 28,000 in 2016.
Brown said the city offers payment plans for customers as well as the Water Residential Assistance Program, or WRAP, a regional assistance fund created as a component of the Great Lakes Water Authority forged through Detroit’s bankruptcy.
The fund has allocated $7.1 million since it launched in 2016, Brown said.
The water department began residential and commercial shutoffs in 2014 in an attempt to crack down on widespread delinquencies amid the city's financial crisis. The move prompted criticism from the United Nations, celebrities and others.
Meeko Williams, chief director of Hydrate Detroit — a nonprofit that provides water deliveries and help with water restoration for families in Detroit — said the city is not doing enough to help families who can’t afford their water bills. Williams said he wants to see the city adopt a water affordability plan so residents living in poverty can pay a fixed rate.
“We are not talking about we want free water,” Williams said. “The water department is using this campaign to demonize poor people. (Brown) is putting the public health and safety of our citizens at risk.”
Detroit resident Charlie Presley, 52, said some senior citizens or families on public assistance fall behind because the water bill is due before they receive their monthly checks. The sewage costs also make it hard for residents to afford their bills, Presley said.
“Maybe their process needs to be updated,” Presley said of the city’s options for customers at risk of water shut-offs. “They say they are (providing help), but evidently it’s still a problem. So it’s their fault.”
The WRAP program is designed to help qualifying customers in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties who are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $36,450 for a family of four, by covering one-
DTE said it hoped to restore power to 90 percent of the affected customers by Tuesday night.
“Restoration will be challenging,” it said in a news release.
DTE, which covers parts of southeast Michigan, said 310,000 customers didn’t have power Sunday night. Consumers Energy, which services most of the remaining state, reported 22,000 customers without power.
Consumers Energy said it hoped to restore power to most of the affected customers by late Monday. It has 1,500 workers, including ones from five nearby states, working on the problem in Michigan.
The scenes of mayhem Sunday included two major freeways slowed by flooding.
The north- and southbound lanes of Interstate 75 was under water between Seven and Eight Mile roads after a local pump station lost power, said the Michigan Department of Transportation. Vehicles skittishly avoided the water by driving on the shoulder. Detroit police warned
motorists to avoid the area until late Sunday.
The northbound lanes of Michigan Highway 10 were flooded at Wyoming Street, said MDOT. The traffic became further congested as the power outage left nearby traffic signals blank.
Meanwhile, amid all the rain and sleet and ice, 10 vehicles caught fire at a used car dealership in Warren after being struck by an arching power line, said Mayor Jim Fouts. The wind and ice accumulation on the wire caused it to drop, he said.
It was one of 50 downed wires in the city, the mayor wrote on his Facebook page. The cars were destroyed.
“We will be on this as long as is needed,” Fouts wrote about weather-related problems in the city.
With most people staying off the roads, serious car accidents were at a minimum, said police. Michigan State Police reported two crashes on Metro Detroit highways.
In Monroe County, residents from 50 lakefront homes in Grand Beach were evacuated from the flooding Lake Erie, said the Frenchtown Township Fire Department.
The Fire Department used boats, along with ones provided by residents, to rescue 70 people, it said on its Facebook page. The water reached heights of 4 feet, said fire officials.
Wind gusts of 40 miles per hour pushed the water over a break wall, said fire officials
“The guys on A shift did an amazing job today!” wrote the department.
All over the state, freezing rain that began falling overnight had left roads treacherous and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.
Heavy snow was forecast to dump a foot or more of snow on parts of the state’s Upper Peninsula by early Monday.
Churchgoers and other motorists had to build more time into their commutes to scrape ice off their vehicles.
The weather has also affected freeway rest stops, with rest stops off Interstate 94 at Belleville Road, and off Interstate 275 and Cherry Hill both closed Sunday due to power outages.
Belle Isle in Detroit has also experienced flooding, said Michigan State Police.
The Detroit Tigers postponed the second half of a Sunday doubleheader with the New York Yankees. Initially, the early game was the only one postponed.