BRIDGEWATER, NJ - After a brief discussion, the Bridgewater council decisively and unanimously concluded that a Hunterdon County development project could be costly for Bridgewater.
The township is one of seven municipalities that includes Branchburg, Hillsborough, Manville, Raritan, Somerville and Warren making up the Somerset Raritan Valley Sewerage Authority, a regional wastewater treatment plant.
Council president Howard Norgalis said he received a call this week about a potential new sewage plant user.
“It caught us a bit off guard,” he said, referring to a proposed 240 age-restricted housing development on part of the Fox Hollow Golf Course in Readington, which is in Hunterdon County, and along the Branchburg border.
The developer is seeking to utilize some of the sewage plant’s capacity.
The concern is future capacity at the 62-year-old treatment plant, which operates at 23 million gallons per day. The council president said that if all seven towns fulfilled their master plan build-outs, the plant would have to process 29 million gallons a day without the Hunterdon County project.
When Norgalis asked SRVSA Executive Director Ron Anastasio what the average daily consumption is per day, he was told, “you don’t want to go there.”
Currently, Bridgewater is the largest user of SRVSA services, using one-third of the capacity and paying one-third of the bill.
Norgalis said former Bridgewater attorney Bill Savo called him when he heard about the proposed project. He is very concerned about letting an outside group into the consortium.
Having visited the plant, Norgalis told the council that it is on a 22-acre site that’s landlocked.
“There is no room to expand, “he said, “so we need to be very careful because if expansion becomes necessary, it will be very, very, very expensive.”
Norgalis also spoke with Bob Albano and Joe Lifrieri, Bridgewater’s representatives on the SRVSA Board of Commissioners about the situation. Albano told him that each of the seven towns has a certain percentage of the total allocation, so if Branchburg chooses to bring this new development into the SRVSA under its authority, there wouldn’t be anything Bridgewater could do to stop it.
Branchburg’s motivation would likely be that the project would move the town closer to its state-mandated quota of fair housing units.
Councilman Allen Kurdyla remarked that capacity and expansion at the plant has always been a debate, and he asked about current capacity.
Norgalis repeated that when he asked, Anastasio said, “I don’t want to go there.”
“If Ron knows,” said Norgalis, “he doesn’t want to tell me.”
Kurdyla said, “if you open the door for one guy as an exception, that would open the argument for other municipalities to do the same thing.”
Bridgewater is near but not at buildout, said Councilman Michael Kirsh, so they may need that capacity in the future.
The announcement about the project came through a letter from the county right after the sewage authority’s July meeting. The SRVSA will be taking up the issue at its August meeting.
“If we want to provide any guidance, they would welcome hearing from the mayor or the council as to what our take is,” said Norgalis. “From my perspective, recognizing that the facility is almost sized-out, I don’t think we should let anybody else in. I don’t want to be mean-spirited about it, but since we’re one-third of the entire capacity and one-third of the bill, the lion’s share of any additional expansion would fall to us and our ratepayers.”
Mayor Matthew Moench said he concurred with the council’s decision, and township attorney Chris Corsini was directed to craft a letter expressing the governing body’s concern.