Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration has declined a Motor City Muckraker request for public records that show how many fire hydrants are broken and where they are located across the city, saying the information would be used by an arsonist “to plan and start a mass fire in those specific areas.”
The request was part of our two-month investigation that revealed Thursday that the city has neglected hundreds, if not thousands, of broken hydrants in front of occupied houses, apartment high-rises, restaurants, downtown buildings and even three fire stations.
The city claimed to it knew about only 70 broken hydrants, so we wanted to see where they were and why they haven’t been fixed. But providing a list “would assist an arsonist to plan and to start a mass fire in those specific areas,” city attorney Ellen Ha wrote in a letter denying the Freedom of Information Act request.
Never mind that broken hydrants are easy to find because they are either wrapped in yellow caution tape or have a yellow “out-of-service” disc attached to the front of them.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which is responsible for fixing hydrants and also is part of Duggan’s administration, declined our similar request for hydrant locations, saying the information “presents issues of security and safety of persons and property.”
To determine how the city managed to neglect hundreds of hydrants, we also requested records of inspections and repairs over the past year. But the city insisted we must pay hundreds of dollars so a staff member in the law department can redact the locations of all of the hydrants, which would make it impossible to determine whether repairs were made.
We plan to appeal the denial and redactions.
In August, Mayor Duggan’s administration demanded $42,000 to produce EMS records. When we requested e-mails between Duggan’s administration and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr in October, the city demanded more than $12,000.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.