I am both a resident of Edison and the Chair of the Raritan Valley Group of the NJ Sierra Club, which represents Middlesex County. Under Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey, Edison has negotiated a 40-year deal with Suez North America to manage operations of the town's public water and sewer systems. It's a bad deal, and we are asking the Edison Town Council to reject the deal when it comes up for consideration. The terms are burdensome, Suez (which also manages other municipal systems such as Hoboken's) has proven a poor partner under similar agreements and the town would lose operating control over these essential services.
This agreement, negotiated over two years with little transparency, is nothing more than a privatization of our municipal operations. The 40-year contract (expiration year 2059!) guarantees rate increases of 4.9% for each of the first 7 years and then decreases over time to annual rate increases of 3.5%. And as we've seen with the experiences of other municipalities, this deal would no doubt lessen township oversight of these critical systems, allow for even greater rate hikes in the event of revenue shortfalls or cost overruns and saddle our kids and future generations with a deal they can't get out of without paying exorbitant buyout fees.
By Suez's own admission (and Edison's), the $811 million deal was negotiated without Suez doing an audit of the current infrastructure. That would be done only after the deal is completed, which is too late. If the audit uncovers unanticipated deficiencies, that could well have a negative cost impact. All in all, this is a bad deal for Edison.
While no one should doubt the need to upgrade Edison's critical water and sewer infrastructure, the Sierra Club would like the brakes to be put on this deal. It should have the proper amount of time to be vetted by the Town Council and the public, in addition to the BPU and NJDEP. After all, it took two years to negotiate, far more time than what the Town Council will be given to decide. Consideration should also be given to whether this issue is more appropriately recommended as a ballot referendum or a bond issue after it has been carefully studied and given the scrutiny it properly requires.
Residents of Edison, who attended a contentious public hearing March 28, have clearly said they don't want this deal. We hope the town council listens and turns thumbs down to privatizing Edison's water and sewer operations.
Chair, Raritan Valley Group
New Jersey Chapter, Sierra Club