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City of Alpena, Alpena Township provide update on water, sewer litigation

News File Photo The Alpena water tower is seen in this November 2018 photo.

ALPENA — The City of Alpena and Alpena Township released a joint update today on the ongoing effort to end litigation over water and sewer rates.

In December, the two municipalities revealed they were considering forming a water authority to oversee water operations in the city and township, but talks continued behind closed doors, until today’s update.

The letter says both sides agree that an authority is the best option, but before any final decision is made, much public input is needed, from residents of both communities. It states the COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard to do so because of the state’s indoor gathering limits.

However, the press release says the added time has allowed for both sides to research the authority option.

“Large gathering restrictions have limited our ability to provide you with a public presentation, but at the same time has afforded us the opportunity to continue our research and dialog in order to answer our internal questions and those we anticipate you will have,” the release says. “Both municipalities are working together towards the common goal of improving Alpena for our citizens and water consumers. Our intention is to schedule a public meeting to present our proposal and hear your input once we are able and prepared to do so.

The two sides have been in litigation for eight years, and this isn’t the first time the idea of an authority has surfaced. The city put the option on the table in 2014, but the township shot the proposal down.

After the city raised water and sewer rates, and wanted the township to pay the same as its residents and businesses, the township refused, and the matter has been in court since.

In 2017, the Alpena County Circuit Court ordered the two sides into mediation. That lasted only one day, however, as city officials didn’t see enough progress being made to continue.

A settlement appeared imminent early in 2018, however, when both governing boards voted to approve “principle terms” for an agreement. That vote wasn’t on a deal on rates, but on seeking a process for establishing rates that could end the dispute.

After continuing negotiations failed to yield a deal, the local court essentially ordered the two sides to adhere to the “principle terms” they’d reached earlier in the year.

Shortly afterward, however, the township appealed a portion of that ruling to the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the city filed a cross appeal. The appellate court also ordered mediation, which also yielded no agreement.

The appeals court ruled that the proposed agreement being considered earlier was non-binding, which the township appealed to the state Supreme Court, which denied to hear the case, and sent it back to circuit court in Alpena.

Combined, nearly $2 million has been spent on consultant and attorney fees by the two governments.

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