DWSD water shutoff fiasco on Helen Street By Russ Bellant

Russ Bellant <russbellant@gmail.com>
DWSD water shutoff fiasco on Helen Street

On the morning of Thursday, April 30, URG LLC, a Macomb County contractor for DWSD went graffiti-streaking on Helen Street in northeast Detroit, identifying with blue paint the water shutoff boxes for 20 residences.

These now-classical sidewalk markings symbolize the message that DWSD is about to shut off the water at these homes because the water bills have not been paid. The blue sidewalk graffiti implies to your neighbors that you are a deadbeat.
But there are big problems with DWSD’s actions. According to our block club survey, at every house where we could make contact with the occupants, half of the houses in question, the bills were paid and accounts were up to date. Before you speculate that the residents are embarrassed liars, consider the following:
– The first person that mentioned this to me, a well known and respected activist, told me that her account was overpaid and she was actually being credited $4.32. She owed nothing and reconfirmed that with DWSD.
– Three neighbors that I know well and that stay on top of their financial matters, said all their bills have been paid and they are not behind at all. These people do not lie.
– Another new property owner was just on the phone with DWSD recently about getting the water turned on at his new house. DWSD did not say there was a problem with restoring water service. Question- why was his house marked for shutoff when is already shut off?
– Three vacant structures that have not had water service and have been shutoff for at least six years and have no water meters were marked for shutoff. The owner has papers showing he owes nothing after DWSD tried to falsely tag him nearly $1,000 for each house two years ago.
So here are questions that citizens and City government need to be asking;
Is DWSD’s record-keeping so sloppy that that cannot distinguish between paid and unpaid customers, or even between users and nonusers of DWSD water? The available data (not just this episode) suggests that they fail on all counts.
Will DWSD now send out shutoff crews to cut families off based on the erroneous blue paint rather than the facts?
In December 2005 the Board of Water Commissioners approved a $150 million water meter contract that was supposed to install, over a four year period, water meters that transmit water usage to billing offices via cell phone tower type receivers. It was approved and ordered two days later by Judge John Feikens without review by City Council, even though it clearly had nothing to do with the waste water discharge permit overseen by Feikens. If this work was done and the system was up and running, why are houses out of service for years being shown as delinquent as if there are operating and incurring unpaid bills after their accounts were cleared two years ago? If this system isn’t running, who is looking into this massive failed deal?
Why was URG sent out to paint these stigmas when there were not even warning notices issued? Of course, there were no notices issued because they were not warranted. But why kind of system would skip the warning and go straight to the customer’s throats?
Detroit clearly needs a water affordability plan for residents in a job-challenged environment. But we have we have an outside-controlled agency creating threats and chaos where none need exist. They do not deserve the trust to execute any City-wide shut off policy.
I encourage block club leaders to survey their streets for new markings and ensure that their neighbors are not threatened in the manner Helen Street residents are. In the meantime our block club will insist on apologies to our demeaned households and a non-abrasive and nonstaining removal of the blue paint, much of it on new concrete where residents are trying to rebuild and sustain their neighborhood against all challenges.