Edison, NJ – Outside the Municipal Building, Edison’s Democrat Council candidates distributed gallons of water to residents. Their message was simple – “Say NO To Suez."
Monday night marked the continuation of the public hearing on the proposed 40 year lease of Edison’s water and sewer system. Under the proposal, made by Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey, also a Democrat, approximately 12,000 water customers located primarily to the south of Route 287 and currently serviced by NJ American Water will become Edison Environmental Partners customers for water and sewer service. The Township's entire sewer system would also be leased by the company. Edison Environmental Partners is a joint venture between Suez and KKR, a private equity firm.
It has quickly become a point of contention between the eight Democrats competing for the four seats.
“We have significant concerns with the Mayor’s proposal,” said Joyce Ship-Freeman, one of the four candidates endorsed by the Edison Democratic Party during its March 14 screening. Ms. Ship-Freeman, who was handing out gallons of water to residents as they attended Monday’s meeting, pointed to the finding of lead in water systems served by Suez. “The health and safety of our residents is paramount” she said.
A sticker on each water gallon distributed by the candidates read “Don’t Get Hosed – Say NO To Suez. This gallon of water is lead free. Soon your tap water may not be.”
In January, Suez said that water samples from multiple homes and buildings in Bergen and Hudson counties served by its water treatment plant in Haworth showed high levels of lead. According to the company, 108 samples were collected at residences served by Suez Hackensack between July 16, 2018 and December 12, 2018, and 15 of the results exceeded the Lead Action Level of 15 ppb. NJDEP issued Suez a notice of noncompliance on Jan. 7 requiring the company to evaluate the performance of its corrosion control treatment at the Haworth plant.
Council candidate Richard Brescher, who was also distributing water outside the meeting, asked for the Council to place the issue before the voters. “This should be a question for the residents. Place the issue on the ballot, let’s have a referendum and allow the people to decide,” he said.
Mr. Lankey and his allies on the Council have dismissed criticism of the $800 million proposal. “Most of the negative remarks I heard were politically biased. This agreement should not be a political football. This is strictly about the repairing, upgrading and maintaining Edison’s water and sewer infrastructure,” Councilman Leonard Sendelsky previously stated.
Mr. Sendelsky, is one of two incumbent candidates running against the Democratic Party in a primary election this June, after losing support of the party on March 14. According to the committee men and women who voted during the March 14 screening, the proposed Suez deal factored into their decison.
"I am keeping an open mind about this agreement. I want to be sure that our water and sewer rates remain stable, and that Edison protects the water-sewer rate freeze for all senior citizens 65 or older,” Mr. Sendelsky said. “I am listening carefully to what residents are saying. Only then will I be able to make a truly informed decision.”
Mr. Lankey also defended the proposal. "It provides $851 million worth of necessary investments to repair and upgrade our aging water mains, sewer lines and pumping stations,” Mr. Lankey said.