This article was originally published in the April 2018 Trenton Downtowner.

A rendering of the proposed Department of Health building.

The Downtowner has been following two important Trenton concerns: the Stakeholders Allied for the Core of Trenton’s (ACT) fight to get the state to abandon its current plan to move state buildings further from the downtown business district and the ongoing problems with the Trenton Water Works.

So what’s been going on?

“The plan presented by former Governor Christie’s Administration to address the need for new state office buildings in Trenton, offers in equal parts, disastrous planning for our downtown and a huge missed opportunity,” says Trenton-based Assemblyman Reed Gusciora in a recent statement on ACT’s website.

Gusciora, who is also campaigning to become Trenton’s next mayor, is currently the only one to respond to ACT’s invitation for city office candidates to weigh in on Christie’s plan to raze three state office buildings and build new ones in a manner ACT calls outdated, unproductive for a downtown business, and costly.

ACT’s claim has been supported by planning experts including the former director of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, an independent state organization that recently secured the bonds for the state project.

It is no surprise Gusciora was the site’s first responder. He has been active with the group and is one of the plaintiffs suing the state over the Christie administration’s questionable approach and procedures. In January a Mercer County state superior court judge ruled against the suit’s call to stop the project.

While the EDA secured the bonds, ACT has not appealed and co-chair Anne LaBate says the group is “considering options.” She also said she has not seen a project schedule.

On February 16 CCRC received an impact study prepared during Christie’s final days by the state Department of Community Affairs’ Local Planning Services. The study called the current plans for the new taxation and health buildings “represent a major commitment to locating state facilities and workers around the commercial and historic center of Trenton. The general massing and reuse of underutilized properties are significant positive features.” CCRC is currently reviewing the study.

LaBate says, despite setbacks, she believes the Murphy administration will take a look at the projects. “The stakeholders have asked for a meeting with treasury and are awaiting a date. The request has been received. Our intention is to bring in experts in urban development who could make the critical case that Christie project is flawed in substantial ways.”

Meanwhile with plenty of questions, one thing is clear: state taxpayers are still picking up Christie’s tab.

At Trenton Water Works (TWW) it has been business as usual — and not always in a good way.

On February 28 the City Council approved emergency contracts with Wade Trim Operation Services and Bane 3 Engineering to provide support for TWW amid pressure from the state DEP.

On March 8 the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously approved a resolution supporting 14th District Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo’s bills package to improve communication about boil-water notices and other emergencies and to expand the applicant pool for water treatment operators and urged state legislators to act quickly.
On March 9 the DEP hit TWW with two more violations stemming from excess disinfection byproducts — haloacetic acids and trihaloemthanes — in the water. Both byproducts are believed to cause cancer and other health issues to people exposed for extended periods.

On March 9 the city posted a statement on its website that said the violations were the result of previously reported issues and not due to any new malfunctions or contamination. “As per our agreement with DEP, TWW is steadily working to rectify issues over staffing, operations, and infrastructure by the end of June.”

On March 13 TTW’s filtration plant was shut down for approximately one hour to repair a minor electrical issue. A city statement noted, “During this brief time, our water supply was drawn from the city’s 80-million-gallon water reservoir. It is routine to shut the plant down to conduct maintenance. The plant has been restarted (and) the quality of the water supplied was maintained.”

On March 18 Trenton homeowner, IBB Consulting fellow, and Re-Invent Trenton blogger Dan Dodson reported the state “has found that Trenton Water Works carries a $12M surplus but that it employs one-third of the staff needed to properly run the utility. The Jackson Administration’s own proposed but never passed budget for 2018 estimates a $3.15M surplus that they gleefully carry forward into the municipal budget as revenue. So really, the $3.1M surplus is all because the city didn’t spend what even it thought it should on TWW. And of course, we know how that turned out: Brown water, pink water, low pressure, boiled water etc.”

We also know that this should be an important issue talked about in the May 8 elections for mayor and city council members. Stay tuned.