Detroit, Mich.— Today, Food & Water Watch filed a complaint in the circuit court of Wayne County to compel the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) to disclose public records about its dealings with Veolia, one of the world’s largest water corporations. For over two years, Food & Water Watch has sought information about any bids, contracts or communication between DWSD and Veolia or its subsidiaries.
In March 2014, approximately eight months after the City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr issued a Request for Information for potential operators of Detroit water and sewer systems. Veolia responded to that request and then submitted a final binding proposal. Later that year, as part of the formation of the Great Lakes Water Authority, Veolia was hired to assess the water and sewer systems. In December 2014, it released two reports about the DWSD. Then in May 2016, the Board of Water Commissioners for DWSD approved a contract with Veolia for the Field Services and Meter Operations Project Management Office.
“Despite repeated requests for information, the city has refused to shed light on DWSD’s involvement with Veolia, issuing blanket denials and declining to provide so much as a public meeting agenda or minutes that mention the company,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The public has a right to know about DWSD’s dealings. Water corporations often make decisions that prioritize profit over the public interest. We urge DWSD to release all public records about its interactions with Veolia.”
“DWSD’s across the board denial of everything requested by Food & Water Watch flies in the face of the purpose of the Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA),” says Cynthia Heenan of Constitutional Litigation Associates, P.C., (CLA) representing Food & Water Watch in the suit. “The FOIA is intended to provide transparency in the internal mechanisms of governments which purportedly act in the interest of the public they serve. DWSD had no legal basis for refusing to produce most, if not all, of the documents requested by Food & Water Watch. As Judge Damon Keith (U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals) has written in recent opinions ‘democracy dies behind closed doors.’ CLA has a long history of litigating to enforce Michigan’s FOIA. We are proud to go to bat for Food & Water Watch in its mission to determine whether the recent and proposed changes at the water department are truly in the best interests of the residents of Detroit.”
Food & Water Watch has opposed the privatization of the Detroit water and sewer systems for more than 6 years, helped bring international attention to the water shutoff crisis in 2014 by working with the Council of Canadians to petition for a UN investigation and continues to advocate for a comprehensive income-based water affordability program to ensure safe and affordable water service for all Detroit residents. Food & Water Watch is an active member of the Detroit People’s Water Board.
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, [email protected]