Highland Park put on backup water system since 2012

- The smoke continues after a warehouse fire leaving a toxic cloud over Highland Park.

The evacuations have lifted but the toxic cloud remains. It should be a couple more days before all the hot spots are put out. Firefighters were hampered in their extinguishing efforts by low water pressure. It is something everyone in the city has had to deal with for years now and the reason behind it could become the state's newest water scandal.

Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp and the city council president hand delivered their resolution to Gov. Rick Snyder's office. They are asking for the governor to hand over money so it can get its shuttered water plant up and running - or to come up with a permanent fix for its backup water system it is currently using.

All of that, they say, to avoid a potential disaster.

"We need an audience directly with the governor," said Yopp. "Maybe we can convince him with direct eye to eye contact that we have a serious problem in Highland Park. It can only get worse."

The newly elected Yopp says the city's emergency water system is bound to fail and the state will be to blame.

For four years Highland Park has been using its backup water system to provide residents with water from Detroit at the order of the state.

"We had a state advisor in our city who actually authorized and ordered the disconnect of Highland Park's water system and the connect with DWSD or the Great Lakes Water (Authority)."

Since then Yopp says the city has experienced low water pressure - 20 psi's when it should be flowing at 50.

That, he claims, hampered efforts to beat back the flames at the recent massive warehouse fire and that's not all.

"It gets dangerous when you drop to 20 to 30 psi's because that's when you have contaminants getting into your water system," Yopp said. "We're having the water tested we have not discovered any contaminants at this point. Right now we had a major fire yesterday and our water pressure is very low.

"We don't know how to raise our pressure because we're on Detroit's system. They control that."

The emergency system which receives and distributes water from Detroit was never meant to be permanent and Yopp says the state never came up with plans or provided the money to make it such. It is like driving too fast on a spare tire for too long. It is only a matter of time before it blows.

"If our system fails then we can't get water at all," he said. "Highland Park would end up like Flint. We would probably end up using bottled water."

To help bolster its case for why the state should pay up Highland Park points to the $26 million it believes MDOT owes it for not paying the city to treat storm water runoff along Woodward, Davison Freeway and the Davison service drive for nearly 30 years.

Exhibit B: A $100 million low interest loan MDEQ gave to Ann Arbor to rebuild its wastewater plant
around that same time Highland Park sought a much smaller dollar loan to make repairs to its plant.

"They didn't allow us to apply for the loan on two different occasions," said Rodney Patrick, Highland Park city council. "But the treasurer had no problem forcing us to take a loan of $17 million with a Fifth Third Bank and to cut our ties with them. So you force us to do a loan for Fifth Third bank but you won't allow us to have a loan through MDEQ to take care of our plant and to take care of our citizen's water system."

Highland Park's water woes are deep. After not receiving water bills for a few years residents were blindsided with invoices reaching five figures last summer.

Many feared they would lose their homes as the unpaid bills, part of a then-$20 million dollar debt to Detroit, would be put on their taxes. And this summer there was even talk of dissolving the city.

Highland Park leaders are hoping this resolution and a sit-down with Snyder will lead to the lifeline the city desperately needs.

Snyder's spokesman Dave Murray said the proper people within the administration will be reviewing it but do not have a timeline due to the Flint water crisis.

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