October 5, 2022
Photos by: Brian McCarthy, OnScene News
TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–During a press conference at Trenton Water Works (TWW) water filtration plant, Mayor Reed Gusciora pushed back on recent statements by City Council President Kathy McBride, and others, about the water utility’s operations.
Gusciora highlighted several resolutions and ordinances that the City Council leadership has rejected, tabled, or barred from the docket which impeded efforts to improve operations at TWW. Council actions stopped capital projects and weakened the water utility’s workforce, operations, water treatment, and distribution systems. For a partial list of measures blocked by City Council, click here.
“I’ve kept my promise to modernize Trenton Water Works and improve its operations, reversing nearly 50 years of underinvestment,” said Mayor Gusciora. “But at every turn, certain councilmembers obstructed our process. They weaponized the word ‘no,’ abandoning their fiduciary responsibilities and obligations to the residents of Trenton and water-utility ratepayers.”
Some parts of TWW’s distribution and treatment systems are decades old and require maintenance or replacement. The Gusciora administration has presented resolutions and ordinances to finance this work, but many of the most critical measures were blocked by Council, jeopardizing TWW’s ability to undertake capital work (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) in a timely and cost-effective manner.
For example, a $15 million bond measure to continue removing lead service lines in the TWW system and at private homes was voted down by Council, costing the City an opportunity to receive a match for half the funding. The obstruction amounted to a $7.5 million loss and an immediate halt to TWW’s lead service line program that had already replaced nearly 10,000 lead service lines with copper ones.
That copper tubing, as well as an array of fittings, water meters, and other supplies were also withheld by Council. Council leaders failed to authorize purchase of these supplies, causing TWW’s Meter Shop and Construction & Maintenance units to cancel appointments and delay work.
“It was this council leadership that threw money down the drain by spending $250,000 on a so-called forensic audit without a single criminal referral or final report,” he said. “They then had the audacity to request another $250,000 to continue looking in books that already are annually audited by an independent firm.”
A top TWW objective, stressed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and supported by the administration, is decommissioning the Pennington Avenue Reservoir. Council effectively stopped TWW’s decentralized water storage project by blocking the demolition of buildings at 942 Prospect Street, the proposed site of the first 8-million-gallon water tank as part of the decommissioning process.
In another instance of shortsightedness, Council stopped engineering work and blocked a bond ordinance to replace a 1.8-mile water main on Olden Avenue in Ewing Township, an area plagued in recent years by frequent water main breaks.
On Thursday evening, the Council will vote on two critical resolutions that will enable TWW to improve water quality throughout its service area, including Hamilton Township, which is addressing several cases of legionnaires’ disease. The first resolution is for the purchase of equipment to flush dead-end water mains in the distribution system, and the second resolution is to accept a grant for detecting leaks to reduce costly systemwide water loss.
“I have never encountered such persistent interference with government efforts to meet the needs of local residents, especially with a service as fundamental as providing clean and safe drinking water,” Gusciora said. “I have faith that our residents will send capable public servants to City Hall next year, so that we can reverse the damage caused by this governing body. While Council leadership seeks to absolve itself from any responsibility, their track record of obstruction and inaction is well documented.”
Gusciora noted Council President McBride’s continuous confusion of ongoing topics, including confusing bonding authority with specific bond spending.
“Kathy McBride continually states that TWW should use underspent bond money on other projects. However, if a project costs less than the bond authority, the excess is not spent, nor can it be spent, on other projects,” he said. “In addition, the Council President confuses ratepayers with taxpayers, claiming that all water costs are borne exclusively by Trenton. I am sure the ratepayers in Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell, and Lawrence would vehemently disagree with that statement. The costs are shared among the five service municipalities through TWW’s ratepayers.”
TWW supplies approximately 28 million gallons of water per day to 217,000 consumers in a service area comprised of parts or all of Trenton, Ewing Township, Hamilton Township, Lawrence Township, and Hopewell Township.
TWW is one of the oldest and largest publicly-owned water systems in the United States. Purchased by the City in 1859, they operate a 60-million-gallon water filtration plant and water distribution system that consists of a 100-million-gallon reservoir, 683 miles of water mains, three pump stations, nearly 8,000 valves, 3,517 fire hydrants, and six interconnections between TWW and other water suppliers. TWW serves approximately 63,000 metered customers.