Grand Haven blames water rate hike on state rules

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Residents in Grand Haven will see a water rate increase starting Friday so the city can pay to get rid of its lead pipes.

The increase is a part of a state mandate called the lead and copper rule, which was set in motion by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018. 

It calls on municipalities to replace all lead and copper pipes, both public and private lines, in the next 20 years. The mandate is now weighing on the backs of small towns like Grand Haven, which says it has to raise water rates 25% to 35% to pay for the project.

“It’s a gun to our head from the state of Michigan,” City Manager Patrick McGinnis said.

The new rate will be $3.48 per 1,000 gallons, an $0.86 increase. The city says the average customer will pay about $70 more per year. The new rate will bring in about $600,000 annually for the replacement construction.

McGinnis said the increase is well over double the largest he has ever seen.

“We think it’s necessary to find ways to get the lead out but we think there are many other measures and ways to do it that doesn’t break our bank,” McGinnis said.

City leaders have proposed several alternatives, including requiring homeowners to replace lines when moving out. Ultimately, they decided the most fair way to pay for the pipe removal would be through the entire customer base.

Some homeowners are worried the rate hikes will make it difficult to make ends meet. 

“It’s going to hurt a lot of people. It’s going to hurt me,” said homeowner Juli Walker, who is on a fixed income and said she already struggles with bills. “I just think it’s ridiculous that they (would) charge us.”

The city says the required work is also adding a lot to its plate.

“We’re going to have to hire people and go out and do separate projects, going out on water mains that are perfectly fine and roads that’s are perfectly fine and digging up in these otherwise undisturbed areas,” McGinnis said.

The city says it tests the water for contaminants often and the amount it has found is well below the state limit. They say despite little to no risk of lead exposure, they have no way of fighting the state on the change without costly litigation. 

“At this point, we’ve conceded. We said, ‘We have to do it. It’s law,'” McGinnis said.

The new water rate will take effect Friday. The city says it will start replacing some of the lead pipe lines in 2021.

It says there is a chance the state Legislature will change the terms of the mandate and allow it to make the rate change more reasonable, but there are currently no discussions about that possibility. 

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