SUMMIT, NJ - It goes down the drain, gets flushed, and cycles through the dishwasher, but most people don’t spend much time thinking about what happens to wastewater. Unless, of course, there is a problem. Local government, on the other hand, does spend a lot of time considering it and making sure that it does not become a problem – and much of the July 10 Summit Council meeting addressed this complex issue.
Staff members of the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties, as well as specialized consultants, presented a summary of the proposed Capital Improvement Plan and Flood Mitigation Project Assessments. The Joint Meeting was formed in the 1890s by six local communities in order to create a comprehensive approach to waste water management. Since that time, the Joint Meeting has grown to include 11 municipalities, including Summit. It operates a 41-acre facility that stores, treats, and disperses wastewater from the 11 municipalities as well as the City of Elizabeth. The Capital Improvement Plan is updated every three to four years to ensure that the property, buildings, storage tanks, sewer lines, and equipment -- some of which date back to the 1930s -- are properly maintained.
The Capital Improvement Plan, introduced by Henry Johnsen, of CME Engineers, includes three projects for consideration:
- Waste gas burner upgrades
- Miscellaneous building upgrades; and
- New primary tunnel construction.
It was noted that the equipment runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The plan is designed to replace equipment as needed. The cost of the proposed improvements total $17.3 million, with Summit's potential contribution an 8.9780% share which totals $1,020,252.
According to Julie Ehlers of Powell Capital Markets -- which provides financial advice to the Joint Meeting -- there are two payment options. The first is a cash payment while the second option is a loan from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank (NJIB), formerly the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust. The loan could be paid off at 0% interest over three years or converted to a bond at the end of the loan period.
The second presentation was for a larger project, the Flood Mitigation Project. This project was developed in response to the effects of Superstorm Sandy which caused $1 million in damage. During the storm flood waters came within a mere six inches of the plant’s power generating system. Had the waters reached the system, it would have shut down. with potentially catastrophic results. Without power, the system cannot process waste water and there is no alternative outlet for the waste water. As a result, the waste water would back up and -- without a timely restoration of power -- would inundate the communities serviced by the plant. Unlike the system which serves Newark, which lost power during Sandy but was able to divert wastewater to nearby rivers, there is no option for the Joint Meeting.
The engineers estimate that should the power generation station fail, it would take approximately 90 days to get it back online. The impact on the loss of service would be profound, closing businesses, and resulting in costs of $1.8 billion to the local economy. Unable to process waste water, the plant buildings would be inundated and eventually would collapse as masonry disintegrated from flood waters. The cost of reconstruction could potentially exceed $50 million.
The proposed project is to install a 22’ perimeter wall to the 41-acre property. An additional wall would be built around the 3-acre adjacent property occupied by the Biosolids Facility. The walls would extend into the ground in order to prevent waste water from coming up under the base of the walls. The project would also include the installation of two storm water pumping stations, an effluent pump station, and two additional cogeneration engines to provide additional power. According to Johnsen, the facility would become an island.
The estimated project cost is $99,921,000 and the timeframe is four years. The Joint Meeting has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for grant funding that would cover 90% of the costs. The share for Summit would be $5.8 million, with a final estimated cost of $589,275 after FEMA’s contribution. According to Ms. Ehlers, the Joint Meeting has been approved by the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank for a loan that would cover the entire project. It would then be the responsibility of the NJIB to obtain reimbursement funding from FEMA. The additional 10% costs that are not covered by FEMA would be divided among the City of Elizabeth and the 11 municipalities. Ehlers noted that the project would not move forward without FEMA commitment.
Councilman Mike McTernan and Council President David Naidu questioned the guarantee of FEMA support, and if changes at FEMA that would preclude them from fulfilling their commitment to the project. Ehlers responded that the entire FEMA funding is earmarked during the year that it is approved and is not subject to future budget changes. She also stated that NJIB has a strong track record of working with FEMA and has been able to process repayments within a 30 to 60-day period. Naidu questioned the accuracy of the proposed budget noting that many projects have cost overruns. Johnsen replied that the estimated budget had a 20% contingency. Councilman Matt Gould asked about fees charged by NJIB. Elhers replied that the interest rate for three-year loan from NJIB would be 0%. At the end of the three-year period, Summit would have the option of paying off the loan in full or obtaining a long-term bond from NJIB with 50% of the bond charged 0% interest and the remainder to be charged at the standard AAA bond rating.
A later resolution introduced by Councilman Bowman also addressed wastewater. The resolution authorized the extension of a shared services agreement with New Providence for Wastewater Operations and Maintenance. The extension moves the agreement to a calendar year. Community Services Director Paul Cascais came forward to explain how this agreement relates to the Joint Meeting. According to Cascais, New Providence pays Summit to process its waste water, which then goes into the Joint Meeting system. In turn, Summit pays New Providence which retains the services of maintenance staff that oversee Summit’s pumping stations and sewer lines. The systems are monitored on a continuous basis. Cascais noted that the partnership has been one of the most successful partnerships that Summit has entered into.
Retail Zoning Expansion Ordinance Proposed
After a brief recess the meeting resumed with ordinances presented for hearing and final consideration. The first ordinance amends the zoning of the Summit Central Retail Business District Zone and was presented by Councilwoman Beth Little. The ordinance allows for additional uses for businesses such as escape rooms, artists studios, culinary instruction, wineries or breweries or other indoor recreation. Little stated that the changes were based on recommendations of Summit Downtown, Inc. and that these types of businesses have considered coming to Summit but were discourage by zoning regulations.
Naidu added that one of the goals is to have experiential activities that cannot be done online. He noted that people may come to the downtown for these experiences and then frequent other local businesses. McTernan said that suggestions from the public during the Master Plan process were also reflected in the ordinance. Mayor Nora Radest added that, in speaking with community members, many requested more services be available in the downtown. Gould commented, “we need to give businesses the best chance for success in Summit.”
New Ordinance Proposed Would Add Additional Stop Signs, Four-Way Stop Intersections
The second ordinance amends the Safety Code that would allow for five additional stop signs at intersections, including three that would become four-way stops. The affected intersections include: Whittridge Road / Hobart Avenue; Essex Road / Whittridge Road; Maple Street / Oakland Place; Lafayette Avenue / Madison Avenue; and Plymouth Road / Silver Lake Drive. Councilwoman Marjorie Fox thanked the safety committee and the Summit Police Department for their work and said “my heart is in my throat when I see kids crossing” referring to the Maple Street and Oakland Place intersection near the middle school. Naidu commented that the signage also reflects citizen input through the Master Plan.
Two Additional Members Added to Economic Development Advisory Committee
Two resolutions appointed volunteer committee members to the Summit Economic Development Advisory Committee and the Recycling Advisory Committee. Daniel O’Sullivan and Jeff Schaffer were appointed as citizens-at-large for the Summit Economic Development Advisory Committee. During discussion of the appointment, McTernan expressed his concerns about the Committee. He stated that while he had no issues with the proposed members, he questions why the committee was created. “What is the problem we are trying to fix?” he asked, noting that Summit Downtown reports a 4% vacancy rate. He believes that the goals of the committee overlap with other committees and that public input comes through the Master Planning Process.
Councilwoman Little responded that Summit Downtown, Inc. only looks at the central business district and that this Committee looks at the whole town. She said that the Committee would report and make suggestions to the Council, which could adopt or ignore their suggestions. She feels that their input can help keep taxes low by bringing new ideas that would contribute to a vibrant and healthy tax base. President Naidu stated that the Council meets every two weeks and considers what has been brought to them. He believes that the Council can benefit from the Committee’s input and that they need to consider the long-term trends that will affect Summit and its citizens. The resolution passed with McTernan as the only dissenting vote.
There was no controversy surrounding the appointment of Markus Gokan to the Recycling Advisory Committee. Then 10th grader serves as the Scout Troop representative to the committee. Councilman Bowman reported that Gokan is eager to be involved in the Committee.
Hometown Heroes Project Renewed for 2019
Council also unanimously voted to support the second year of the Hometown Heroes initiative. Council members and Radest said that the public reaction to the project has been overwhelmingly supportive and that there is already a waiting list of 25 veterans for next year’s program.
The resolution includes the adoption of additional light and utility poles for 2019. Henry Bassman and Mike Arlein, who introduced the project at a January Council Meeting were thanked and asked to speak. Bassman said that not only was the project successful in raising the profile of Summit veterans, but that the project encouraged veterans to talk about their experiences in public and social media forums. Arlein indicated that the public needs to continue to support the project financially to purchase the banners and hardware. Contributions can be made by mail to: Summit Hometown Heroes, P.O. Box 892, Summit, NJ 07902 or by visiting the Summit Area Public Foundation website at sapfnj.org and designating the Hometowne Heroes section of the Community Fund.