Barbara Bickert has been staying with relatives ever since she, her husband, and her 1-year-old son had to vacate their York Street home because floodwaters and sewage destroyed most of their floors and walls.
“This has been a nightmare,” Bicket said at a town meeting last week.
The nor’easter that struck Jersey City on April 15 caused not only water damage, but also pushed sewage into Downtown Jersey City homes and businesses.
Some 75 residents attended a meeting with the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) on Monday at the Rafael Cordero School on Erie Street to find out what can be done.
Several residents criticized the officials for what they deemed a faulty sewage system in the area, and demanded prompt action for a solution.
A combined sewer system, like Jersey City’s, which is over 100 years old, means that both wastewater and storm water flow through the same pipes.
Residents contended that the MUA, which is responsible for maintaining the city’s sewers, must replace the antiquated combined water and sewer system that runs under their homes with one that has separate lines for storm water and sewage.
But one MUA official said that replacing all the pipes would cost $1.8 billion.Promises to help
The problems arise when water overflows in the system and the sewage discharge doesn’t happen fast enough, which leads to backups into the dwellings.
MUA Executive Director Daniel Becht and MUA Chief Engineer Joseph Beckmeyer said the cost to replace the entire system would be prohibitive. But Becht promised that inspectors would visit homes to assess each one’s sewer mechanisms by July.
He also said that an outside consulting firm will be retained to study the city’s sewer system.
State Assemblyman Louis Manzo, who was at the meeting, asked the MUA keep his office informed of their work and he offered to help them secure state funding for future sewer repairs.
City Councilman Steven Fulop and resident Christine Mittman organized the meeting. A 1.8 billion dollar problem?
Beckmeyer said that replacing the city’s entire sewer system would cost upwards of $1.8 billion.
Attendees shot back that they wanted the combined sewer line that runs under their homes replaced before a large-scale overhaul occurs.
Beckmeyer said the sewer system was built over 100 years ago but is in “remarkably good shape” in many city areas, and the MUA “[makes] repairs when they are aware of them.”
The MUA distributed questionnaires to the residents to assess the damage to their homes.
Last week, Mayor Jerramiah Healy commented on the flooding.
“The issue of flooding downtown is a longstanding problem. This infrastructure has been in place for over 150 years, and the rainfall that recently occurred has not happened in that capacity in over 125 years.” Maybe a suit
Phillip Barraza and his fiancée Andrea Azpeitia are the co-owners of Downtown Taqueria on Grove and Grand streets in a basement space. Barraza said he was worried about worse scenarios occurring in the next heavy rain.
“What’s going to happen is, somebody is going to get electrocuted,” Barraza said. “That’s what’s going to finally make somebody say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to take care of this.’ “
Fulop said he would post updates on the issue on his Web site stevenfulop.com. He also challenged MUA officials to work quickly on the issue, and said he might pursue a class action lawsuit with some of the affected residents. Hopeful, but wanting results
After the meeting, Fulop said the attendance and the dialogue enthused him.
“I think it was productive and I am optimistic that there will be results,” Fulop said.
Jon Gellman, who has lived on Seventh Street for the past 10 years, was skeptical that the MUA will deliver results.
“They like to make themselves look good when they are around a lot of people, but they like to play ‘blame the victim,’ ” Gellman said.
Mittman, who has organized past public meetings with meager attendance, was encouraged by the residents’ participation.
“To have this much turnout shows that there’s a larger problem than [the MUA] thought,” Mittman said. “They said they only get a handful of complaints.”
Tom Gibbons, a homeowner on Pavonia Avenue near Hamilton Park, said he has sought medical care for an ear and nose infection that he believes came from mold growing behind his walls from the water damage.
“There are so many good people who want to stay here in Jersey City but are being forced to move out, not only because of damage to their homes but also damage to their health,” Gibbons said. For more information on the MUA questionnaire, call the MUA at (201) 432-1150, or Fulop at his office at (201) 547-5315, or write to FulopS@jcnj.org. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com