With water main breaks dominating the headlines, the City of Hoboken has decided to take the initial steps to look elsewhere for its water needs.
Tensions came to a head last week, as a series of rupture incapacitated vital parts of the city, prompting dueling press conferences and finger pointing between SUEZ Water and Mayor Ravi Bhalla. The Mayor holds SUEZ accountable for the water main breaks, while SUEZ claims it has tried to work with the City to upgrade infrastructure that is more than a century year old in some places.
— SUEZ Water NJ (@SUEZwaterNJ) August 29, 2018
Last night, the Hoboken City Council authorized the Bhalla administration to begin seeking new proposals for a new water utility.
“As you may know, the current contract with SUEZ provides no funding to replace water mains, and only a limited amount to repair broken water mains,” said Mayor Bhalla in a statement. “Over the next several months, the City will now consider a new water main administrator and new contract with more substantial investments in replacing outdated water mains on a yearly basis, not just when water main breaks occur.”
The contract with SUEZ has been in place since 1994.
“According to the contract, only $350,000 is allocated for water main repairs, which doesn’t even cover the cost of emergency repairs, let alone any proactive water main replacement,” said Bhalla. “Quite simply, this contract is unacceptable to the residents of Hoboken, and we are now looking for a new contract that provides the necessary upgrades to our system in the immediate future.”
In June of 2017, the City of Hoboken had begun negotiations with SUEZ on a new contract. Those negotiations have would provided more than $31 million in infrastructure investments and a total of over $40 million in benefits to the City of Hoboken through 2034. Those negotiations were derailed by nagging questions over the city’s outstanding liability for past repairs.
In a statement issued this afternoon, SUEZ said, “We appreciate that Mayor Bhalla and the City Council have given SUEZ the opportunity to meet with the Infrastructure Committee and we look forward to continuing to work towards a solution to the city’s water infrastructure problems in a collaborative and transparent manner. SUEZ is committed to continuing its valued partnership with the City of Hoboken, to making badly needed and necessary investments in the city’s infrastructure and to offering residents an excellent level of service. We look forward to continuing that process over the coming weeks.”
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it has awarded nearly $84.5 million to New Jersey to help finance water infrastructure projects that are essential to protecting public health and the environment. The funds will primarily be used to upgrade wastewater and drinking water systems throughout the state.
“Working with our state and local partners to ensure our communities have affordable access to clean drinking water remains a critical priority for EPA,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “We are pleased to provide significant funding as part of our overall efforts to help New Jersey meet its critical water infrastructure needs.”