Suez contract must be reconsidered

Dear Editor:
During my time on the City Council, I often encounter problems that Hoboken has to face, but other New Jersey municipalities seemingly don’t. Whether it’s our lack of parking, challenges from flooding, or saving our hospital, our community is strongest when we work together to identify and execute solutions to these challenges.
So recently when there was a large water main break in southwest Hoboken and our residents suffered because of the subsequent lack of water, my immediate reaction was to see how we could solve this problem and upgrade our current infrastructure to avoid issues like these. However, I am troubled by our situation. We, as a City, are at the mercy of Suez (formerly United Water) thanks to an agreement made by a prior administration in 1994 that has handcuffed us for the past 20+ years and will continue to harm us until 2024. That is, unless we work to find a way to change our current situation.
In a shortsighted decision to fill a budget gap in the 1990’s, a prior administration sold away our rights to the water system for $13.2 million. This agreement still haunts us to this day. As of 2011, Suez received approximately $8 million per year in annual revenue. What do we receive in return? Suez contributes $350,000 for capital improvements annually. Clearly, this is not enough. When questioned, Suez has been able to shrug their shoulders and note that they are fulfilling their obligations under the agreement. A Staten Island editorial board even documented Hoboken as a lesson in why privatization of public water rights isn’t always effective or positive for a community. In this case, that editorial is warranted and appreciated, but is also an understatement.
Given our circumstances, just like in troubling times in the past, our community came together. I want to thank the Mayor, all of the members of our public safety teams, city employees, and members of our volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) for assisting during the recent major water main break.
That said, as City Council President, I am pledging to work with my colleagues and Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration to explore every possible option and see how we can correct this issue. We need to explore the option of terminating or renegotiating this agreement so residents aren’t receiving the bare minimum commitment to improving our growing infrastructure. I look forward to working with residents and all stakeholders to address this challenge to our community.

Ravinder S. Bhalla
City Council President

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