For the fourth time in less than a year, Trenton Water Works has a new person in charge.
The City of Trenton announced July 8 that Mark Lavenberg has been appointed acting director of the city’s Department of Water and Sewer, which operates TWW. A search committee formed to review potential candidates selected Lavenberg, who will start his new role on Aug. 3.
Lavenberg, 57, has 32 years of experience in the water industry. He most recently served as TWW’s licensed operator, in 2019, as part of a contract the city had with Operations Services, Inc.
TWW’s new acting director began his career mostly in South Jersey, working for water and sewer facilities in Bridgeton, Palmyra, Moorestown, Wrightstown, Pemberton and Mount Holly. In June 2015, the City of New Brunswick hired Lavenberg to provide stability to its own troubled water department. Prior to Lavenberg’s hiring, New Brunswick’s water utility had gone through three directors in a year—including one demoted for using a racial slur—and was dealing with a scandal after being caught falsifying water quality records, according to New Brunswick Today.
Lavenberg served in New Brunswick for three years before leaving to take a job at the City of Newark’s water utility. Newark, at the time, had been in the midst of its own crisis, making national headlines for having dangerously high levels of lead in its drinking water.
Another challenge awaits him. Lavenberg joins TWW at a turbulent time in the 151-year-old water utility’s history, with the state Department of Environmental Protection having filed suit against TWW in June for “a pattern of inaction” within Trenton’s government and three of the towns in TWW’s suburban service area filing a motion in July to join the suit. As part of the motion, the lawyers for Ewing Township, Hamilton Township and Lawrence Township requested control of TWW be taken away from the City of Trenton—with either the state, a private entity or even the townships themselves stepping in.
TWW recently launched a 6-year, $405 million capital improvement plan for its system, a plan that is comprehensive but requires Trenton council’s cooperation in order to get funding. Trenton council approved the needed funds to deal with TWW’s own lead pipe problem, but has battled with Mayor Reed Gusciora and his administration on other spending measures.
TWW has not had a permanent director since September 2019. Former West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, a former DEP director, served in the role from July 2018 until September 2019. He quit suddenly last year, allegedly out of frustration with a lack of support from Trenton’s council.
Steve Picco replaced Hsueh that same month as interim director, picking up where his predecessor left off. Picco formulated the ambitious capital improvement plan, and increased staffing levels at TWW, another chronic issue at the utility that had drawn DEP’s attention.
Council forced Picco out of the job after just three months, refusing to reappoint him at its Dec. 19, 2019 meeting. TWW chief engineer David Smith took Picco’s place, serving as interim director.
Starting in August, it’s Lavenberg’s turn.