In a case of dueling press conferences, the City of Hoboken and SUEZ Water appeared conspicuously divided on the topic of responsibility for Hoboken’s ongoing plague of water main breaks.
Mayor Ravi Bhalla stood on the steps of City Hall and expressed his irritation over the “unacceptable rash” of water main issues that have hobbled Hoboken as of late, citing 14 in the last 64 days.
“We’re in this together,” said the Mayor, “water main breaks impact everyone—residents and businesses alike.” Severe ruptures in the past week have crippled water and traffic flow in various spots throughout town, severely impacting residents, retail, hospitality and overall quality of life. Mayor Bhalla cited safety concerns, and declared a City Emergency, in an effort to hasten the resources necessary for a swift resolution.
The City will also seek counsel for a lawsuit against SUEZ, and explore the possibility of finding a new water service provider for Hoboken.
This morning I briefed residents on the 14 water main breaks in the past 64 days. Hoboken will take these steps:
1. Declare an emergency to investigate the issue
2. Based on findings, file a lawsuit against SUEZ
3. Work w/ the City Council to re-bid the work being done by SUEZ pic.twitter.com/Dkt6rQwmo4
— Ravinder S. Bhalla (@RaviBhalla) August 28, 2018
The Hoboken City Council unanimously signed a letter, stating that they are, “committed to working to resolve this important issue and look forward to working together with Mayor Bhalla and his administration to put in place a plan that will solve our chronic water infrastructure issues both in the near and long term.”
Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, head of the infrastructure subcommittee, told the assembled media that, “This feels like déjà vu all over again,” citing the catastrophic failure of the system in 2015. “It was a priority then, and remains a priority now,” Fisher said, adding, “the entire council is supportive.”
Specifically, in a meeting on Monday, the Mayor said the utility had pinpointed the blame. “They, SUEZ, conceded that the water meter vault could be a contributing factor in the spike in water main breaks,” Bhalla said.
Immediately following the City Hall conference, however, SUEZ held their own presentation on the scene of yet another repair at 16th & Grand Streets. Their message was pretty straightforward.
“ANY construction project in the city of Hoboken could cause main breaks,” said SUEZ Senior VP of Communications Rich Henning. “Why is that? Simply because the system is so old. Hundred-year-old pipes have outlasted their usefulness.”
With evidence of pipes dated back to 1897, as well as anecdotal stories of coming into contact with wooden pipes as recently as the last decade, SUEZ feels the City would do its residents a disservice by pursuing legal action and alternative providers, when the answer is essentially an overhaul of the relics that currently serve as Hoboken’s pipe system. In addition to general decay, that need stems from Hoboken nearly doubling its population since SUEZ has assumed control of the city’s water.
When asked directly, Henning said the pipes are in fact the responsibility of the City of Hoboken.
“Hoboken is a great city. It has great residents and these people deserve better infrastructure. They don’t deserve 111 main breaks happening every year for the past 17 years,” Henning said.
Bhalla says, “SUEZ’s record speaks for itself, and we can no longer work with a system that doesn’t put Hoboken first.”