Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner

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  • Candidate picture

    Robert E. Buxbaum

  • Candidate picture

    Jim Nash

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Biographical Information

What are the most pressing challenges facing the office in the next four years?

Why are you the best candidate for the job? (cite your specific qualifications)

Where do you stand on the Great Lakes Water Authority and water and sewer rates?

What changes and/or projects would you plan if elected?

What specific infrastructure upgrades would you make in the county?

What specific plans do you have to improve water quality in the county?

What accolades have you received from environmental groups? What criticisms have you received from such groups?

Does Oakland County need to address the lack of state oversight of septic systems by taking steps to oversee the installation and upkeep of those systems? What would those steps be? How would the county pay for them? And what would the county require of property owners who are shown to be polluting waterways with failing septic systems?

Do you support and will you appear at campaign events with your party’s presidential nominee?

Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor? If so, explain.

Have you ever filed for personal bankruptcy? If so, explain.

City of residence Oak Park, MI
Age 61
Family wife, Gail; three children.
Education Brooklyn Technical HS '72 Cooper Union, BE '76 Princeton University, MA, PhD *82
Vehicles owned One Chevy, one Ford, and one Saab, currently.
Professional Experience Assoc. Professor at Michigan State Univ. Assoc. Prof at Wayne State Univ. Opened business in Ferndale, 1991 or '92.
Political Experience Virtually none: GOP Precinct delegate for the past 2 years.
Race/ethnicity Caucasian, Jewish.
Campaign Website
Incumbent? false
For the most part our water system works. We had a horrible flood in August 2014, though. Too much rain and too little ground absorption sent a mix of sanitary (toilet) sewage and rain water our into basements. During that flood and a dozen times since we've discharged feces-laden sewage into Lake St. Clair just upstream of our water intake on Belle Isle. That could have been deadly; we need to avoid a repeat. In a few months, the incumbent will open a sewage cistern in the Farmington Hills drinking aquifer. It's likely a disaster. Our roads are failing because of bad drainage. They need fixing, but we don't want to spend too much. Elect me, an Engineer.
Flow is engineering, as is sewage treatment. I’m a PhD chemical engineer, while my opponent has no engineering knowledge or understanding. He was a political science major and florist who got into politics. I taught engineering, and ran an engineering company. You want to do things right but not charge too much. To me, the incumbent seems clueless, though rather pleasant. He spends lots of money on expensive, dangerous things, like the CSO tunnel cistern beneath Middlebelt road. It doesn't have 1/10th the volume needed, is potentially explosive, and costs about 40 times more per volume than a French drain -what I would propose.
The Great Lakes Water Authority was, I suppose, the best response possible to the Detroit bankruptcy. GLWA provides water to most Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne residents, and they help run the Detroit Sewage plant near Zug Island. The organization works reasonably well, despite competing agendas and some general hard-feelings following the bankruptcy. I've attended meetings, but will have no vote, even if I am elected. The city of Highland Park has decided to not pay for water or sewage. As they're a city, they can't be shut off. Instead, GLWA bills everyone else more and gripes.
My major project would be to separate the sewers: sanitary from storm. As an engineer, I think I could do it cheaply and right. I doubt my opponent could. The incumbent is building a tunnel cistern for mixed sewage instead. It is too small, too expensive, and it won't work. I'd use French drain - bioswale technology. I'd retain storm run-off only and discharge the rainwater slowly into the rivers. It's a far safer and better alternative costing about 50x less per volume. I'd continue the incumbent's emphasis on education, but would tilt more to older kids and adults. I'd fix the Pontiac sewage plant to make fertilizer, and would work more with the roads folks; bad drainage causes bad roads.
My major activity would be to separate the sewers: sanitary from storm. Whenever it rains more than an inch or so, our pipes get overwhelmed and we dump mixed sewage into the rivers and lake upstream of our water intake. It ruins the fishing, and it's a health disaster waiting to happen. I'd also like to upgrade and fix the Pontiac sewage plant, and would like to send some West Bloomfield sewage to the Commerce plant. These activities save money by using our equipment better. Also, I'd add weir dams on some drains and rivers to stop erosion, avoid dredging and improve fishing:
The biggest water quality issue, in my opinion, is that we regularly discharge sewage just upstream of our water intake on Belle Isle. That's a disaster waiting to happen. My main specific plan is to separate the sewers so we don't discharge that way. Also, the incumbent has put a leaking cistern into the Farmington Hills aquifer. That needs fixing by grout or lining before it's put in service and poisons the well water. I favor avoiding this expensive, leaky technology in the future. I also favor lead water testing at schools and public buildings. Several Oakland communities show high blood lead levels.
I'm supported by, what I suppose is the largest environmental group in the county, "Save Lake St Clair". It has about 12,000 members. The incumbent dumps millions of gallons of sewage every other week into the lake. The DockTalk fishermen support me too. The incumbent is president of his own group, "Pure Oakland Water," funded by the county and its contractors. They support him, as does the Sierra club. I went to a Sierra meeting and asked why, given his horrible environmental record. Apparently, they feel his human rights stance makes up for the pollution. I've received no criticisms, so far, from these or any environmentalists.
The biggest leaking septic system that I know of is the $40MM, 1.1 mile, diagonal tunnel cistern under Middlebelt road. It's 50 to 80 feet down and it currently leaks water in from the aquifer. It has caused the closure of 2 dozen wells so far, and we have to pay for the treatment of all that water. Unless it's fixed, it will endanger thousands of lives. My recommended fixes are grouting and liners, though my first fix is to replace the water commissioner. Drainage isn't a new branch of engineering. You want to do it right and cheap -- and beautiful too if you know how. Leaking private septic systems are jobs for the EPA and the MDEQ.
I've never met Trump, nor seen him live, but I support him over Clinton, currently. Trump seems to be a loud-mouth on stage, but he's supposed to be better in person. I think he has a better sense of infrastructure, a key issue for me, and I suspect he would be the better negotiator. A big deal for me too, I'm a fan of tariffs, e.g. on Chinese and Mexican goods, something Ms Clinton opposes. I think they will bring some lost jobs back.
So far, thank God, I've never been convicted or tried for any crime; not for felony nor misdemeanor.
So far, thank God, I've never been bankrupt, nor filed for bankruptcy. I've borrowed money, e.g. for college and for my home, but have always managed to pay off the loans ahead of time.
City of residence Farmington Hills
Age 60
Family Wife, Karen; Children in Michigan, Emily, Sean, Jacob and Alexandra; Grandchildren, Colby, Caleb and Kaitlyn.
Education BS, Political Science, Florida State University, 1988
Vehicles owned 2013 Chevy Volt
Professional Experience Florida Democratic Party Assistant Communications Director (1988-1991) Michigan business owner, Baldwin Woodwork (1995-2005) and McClure-Parkhurst Florist (1997-2005)
Political Experience Oakland County Commissioner (2005-2013), Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner (2013-present)
Race/ethnicity caucasion
Campaign Website
Incumbent? true
Better controlling separated and combined stormwater systems, for pollution prevention of surface waters & flooding. Developing green infrastructure to absorb the 1st inch of rain before it reaches storm drains, meaning fewer floods & less pollution. Repairing/replacing aging infrastructure, especially in urban and high poverty communities. Developing waste water treatment plants into Water Resource Recovery Facilities, to produce energy from sewage & remove polluting phosphorus & nitrogen. Drinking water safety & quality, in water systems and private wells. Protecting our lakes & rivers, economic drivers and important resources. Developing climate change resilience and mitigation policies.
I have been leading green building & sustainability issues in Oakland County and across MI since becoming County Commissioner in 2005. As WRC, I am holding my 4th annual Stormwater Summit this year, bringing state & national experts on green infrastructure to discuss and demonstrate how we can control stormwater pollution and flooding. I have lead collaborative agreements that have saved cities millions. I have started projects at wastewater plants to create energy from treating sewage. I have improved morale in WRC and relations with many communities. I have an excellent reputation for working across the aisle and regionally. I have improved investment in public education on water issues.
I was first approached by Detroit before the EM & bankruptcy for a regional authority, and worked with the County Executive's Deputies from the beginning to develop the best system possible. My office has had the expert advice to back up Oakland County's negotiations, and I attended many of the meetings with Judge Cox, EM and Mayor Duggan as it developed. I believe GLWA was the best possible option and Oakland helped make it as good as it could get. I have seen a huge improvement in community communication & inclusion, planning, operations and simple respect. I believe we can live within the 4% budget growth promise, a major improvement, and still make the needed system repairs.
I am working with DEQ on a plan to turn wastewater treatment plants into Water Resource Recovery Facilities, extracting energy from sewage flow & solids digestion & extracting harmful nutrients in useful form. I support a strong state infrastructure plan, especially for older, low income communities, to make needed system repairs many communities can't afford themselves. I'm leading efforts to implement green infrastructure, far cheaper to build & maintain than the old gray infrastructure. I will help local governments develop a fairer, transparent way to pay for stormwater improvements that allows people to pay less or nothing if they reduce or stop runoff from their properties.
Over the last two years my office has received more state Stormwater, Asset management & Wastewater (SAW) grants & done more work on sewer and stormwater asset management studies than any other county. Now we are ranking assets by condition and will begin projects over coming years, to stop leaks that cost money to treat & damage the pipes. My office will continue major improvements in Pontiac, replacing 100+ year old failing water mains & lead pipes as we go. I will work to implement a green infrastructure approach to stormwater management, much cheaper than gray infrastructure, to help separated & combined systems. I am working with DEQ & locals on planning and demonstration projects.
The GLWA has an excellent record producing pure water, treated with safe corrosion control. In Flint they failed to do that, allowing lead to leach out of lead leads (the pipe from water main to the house), older home pipes with lead solder or from brass fittings containing lead. My office tests for lead in homes in the communities we serve, other communities test their own, and report results to the public. Almost all results have been "non-detect." In Pontiac we're replacing lead leads to homes as we go. Recently, some Oakland Co. Schools have tested positive for lead in drinking fountains. I support County efforts to fund testing in Oakland schools, or replace them with modern fountains.
I was honored to receive the 2015 "Environmentalist of the Year" award from the Michigan Sierra Club. I received an award from the MI Green Living Festival. I have received recognition from Oakland University and Cranbrook Institute of Science for supporting Water Festivals for 4th and 5th graders. I was Sierra Club Southeast Michigan Group Board member from 2001-2005 and Chair from 2003-2005. I have worked with Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Food and Water Watch, among others, on water issues, energy conservation & renewable energy, climate change and drinking water quality/safety. I am not aware of significant criticism from environmental groups, but I will always listen.
Failing septics are a significant problem across Oakland County, Michigan & America, polluting our lakes & streams and creating biological hazards for humans & wildlife. My office recently completed a project replacing failing septics in 25 homes on a lake with a grinder-pump, forced main system. Current law gives jurisdiction over septic systems to county health departments. Oakland County's Environmental Health Unit oversees septic systems, when we find evidence of a problem we work with them. We are assisting SEMCOG and others in developing a regional water resources plan, including septic issues. The state 21st Century infrastructure Committee must address this issue with state funding.
Yes and yes. In many ways Hillary Clinton must win this election. Her efforts on renewable energy are vital, her proposals for infrastructure are desperately needed and we must continue to support science-based environmental regulation to protect our water, air and land and prepare for and mitigate climate change. Her opponent denies climate science in a bizarre Chinese conspiracy claim and calls for eliminating environmental protection at the federal level. My father saw Theodore Roosevelt speak in 1908, who said "conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty to ensure the safety and continuance of the nation." This was a bipartisan issue then and it must be again.