17K may lose wa­ter due to un­paid bills

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY NIC­QUEL TERRY The Detroit News

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-

and hun­dreds

Metro Detroit.

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

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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.

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