Nash gives update on Highland Park water debt
By Lisa Brody
At the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, July 11, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash provided an update on the over $67 million debt to various communities from Highland Park's non-payment to the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA).
Olivia Olsztyn-Budry, engineering and environmental services director, explained that Bloomfield Township is not a direct customer of GLWA as the township gets its water from SOCWA. She noted that the township receives sewage services from the Evergreen Farmington Sanitary Drain Drainage District (EFSDDD). The EFSDD receives sewer services from GLWA. Highland Park receives sewer services from GLWA as well.
Highland Park has not made consistent payments both in timing and amount to GLWA for the sewer services since 2013. The debt created by Highland Park's non-payment is passed on to the other GLWA customers and is tracked as "bad debt."
“Likewise, the EFSDDD passes on its allocation from GLWA for Highland Park's shares to its member communities including Bloomfield Township. The EFSDDD has been allocated $5,413,500 of Highland Park's arrearages and of that share, $939,000 (determined based on 2023 shares) has been passed on to Bloomfield Township,” said.
Nash explained “what they owe us about 80 percent on the water, 20 percent on the sewer. This has been going on since 2012, when EGLE, then the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), shut down their water because they were putting out contaminated water. Up until last year, they had been paying something each year. Last year, they didn't pay anything.”
Nash said their debt has ended up around $67 million. “Out of a $1 billion system, it's not a lot, but it shouldn't have been done. Now the governor has gotten involved.”
There have been two court cases, he noted, with the first favoring Highland Park, and GLWA appealing; the second case has now ordered Highland Park to pay the money, $52 million to GLWA. He said Highland Park has now entered mediation with the help of the state.
GLWA has been charging customers for Highland Park's back debt.
“This year, GLWA decided to not charge for this debt, which is a good thing,” Nash said. “We're working to get next year's canceled too. I don't know that we'll get reimbursed. They're a very poor community. But we should from the state.”