Edison, NJ – Groups opposed to Mayor Thomas Lankey’s recent proposal to lease Edison’s sewer and water systems to Suez North America, a Paramus-based water and wastewater company, have launched a new website, nosuez.com, and are organizing two public meetings, leaving them at odds with the Mayor.
Critics of the $800 million proposal, a 40 year agreement with Suez to operate and manage Edison's water system and the town’s sewer system, are calling for the end to water privatization in Edison. They will be holding two meetings to discuss the Suez proposal, one on March 11, 2019 and a second on March 20, 2019, ahead of a March 28, 2019 public meeting the Township plans to hold.
But Mr. Lankey questioned the timing of those meetings and the veracity of the information that will be provided. “Monday night's meeting, and another set for later this month, are very premature. Anyone who attends will only hear incomplete and mistaken information,” Mr. Lankey said. “Accurate details about Edison’s proposed long-term water/sewer lease agreement will be available to the public at 6 p.m. March 28 at Town Hall.”
The March 11 and March 20 meetings will feature a presentation by Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group on healthy food and clean water issues.
Junior Romero, the Central New Jersey Organizer at Food and Water Watch, said the group opposes Mr. Lankey’s proposal. “So it’s really just the first introductory public meeting on why Food and Water watch opposes this deal,” said Mr. Romero. “We work to oppose water privatization and sewer privatization deals all across New Jersey and all across the country , and that’s why we want to hold this public meeting - to get the public engaged, educated, on this issue and mobilize folks to the upcoming hearing later this month.”
Mr. Romero stated that his group opposes both the water and sewer components of the proposed Suez deal. “We oppose water and sewer privatization in general because the public loses their ability to what should be public ownership of those utilities- water, sewer. Right now the water is already privatized but we believe this deal they’re about to engage in is contradictory to what we need to do in protecting our public water. Edison should be re-municipalizing their water instead of just changing hands with other private companies. And as far as the sewer, they’re leasing out their sewer system, again to privatization. Their sewer deal has legally no provisions for rate increases,” he said.
Details regarding the Suez proposal have thus far been scarce, leading two local lawmakers, Councilmen Ajay Patil and Joseph Coyle, to call for the Edison Township Council to exercise its powers, through the formation of a committee of the whole, to investigate the Suez deal.
“It is up to this council to fully investigate the deal on behalf of our taxpayers. Once again, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the proposal, only that we need to do our own due diligence, and that the committee of the whole allows us to that,” said Mr. Patil at the February, 25 council meeting.
However, Mr. Patil’s proposed resolution to form a committee of the whole on the Suez deal did not move forward after Council President Alvaro Gomez along with Council members Leonard Sendelsky, Michael Lombardi, Sam Joshi, and Bob Diehl did not support Mr. Patil’s amendment, stating it was too soon to go that route.
What also remains unclear is who is organizing opposition to the proposal. On the website, opponents of the deal argue that privatization of the water system “leads to rate increases,” “undermines water quality,” and “reduces local control and public rights.” They also state that “privatization can leave the poor with no access to clean water.”
As of Monday morning, the “No Suez” website did not list any contact information. The anonymous website also does not disclose who is operating or funding the site. A search by TAPinto Edison revealed that the domain name is privately registered.
In an interview with TAPinto Edison, Mr. Romero stated that while Food and Water Watch is funding the two meetings, his group is not behind the website. While he was not certain, Mr. Romero stated that he believed former Democratic party chairman turned Republican Mayor candidate, Keith Hahn, owns the website.
Mr. Hahn has taken to social media to promote the website and the meetings. In a Facebook post on Sunday, Mr. Hahn stated “Edison, Say no to Suez Water! Please visit the website to gather more information & date / time / locations of important events” and provided a link to the website.
In an interview with TAPinto Edison, Mr. Hahn denied owning the “No Suez” website. “I’m not that tech savvy but I guess a couple people involved were worried about the water deal started the website, I just shared it on Facebook,” he said.
Mr. Hahn said that his social media postings were part of his effort to raise awareness on the issue. “They’re going to have one meeting in the council chambers which doesn’t even hold that many people and they expect it to just move forward after that, it’s kind of unreasonable. I wish the Mayor would’ve been more forthcoming in terms of the deal and then schedule a series of meetings to inform and educate the public,” he said.
Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex), whose district includes Edison and who also Chairs the Environment and Solid Waste Committee in the State Assembly stated that she is monitoring the issue, but that the issue is within the purview of the local government.
“At this point in time, it’s really still the responsibility of the municipal government,” said Ms. Pinkin on the Edison-Suez deal. “They are looking into it and they’ve been looking at all the contractors, I’m aware of the fact that they’ve been looking at it. But it’s still within their purview. I’m monitoring it, just as I try to monitor everything that’s happening in all the towns,” she said.
The March 11 meeting is sscheduled to be held at Grace Reformed Church, located at 2815 Woodbridge Ave in Edison from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The March 20 meeting is scheduled to be held at Edison Memorial VFW Post 3117, located at 53 National Road in Edison also from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.