Judge Robert Lougy granted a motion by three suburban municipalities served by Trenton Water Works to join a lawsuit against the water utility.
Ewing, Hamilton and Lawrence townships learned Aug. 14 that their request to become parties to a state suit against the City of Trenton and Trenton Water Works had been accepted by the court.
“This means that we will be able to fully participate in the case, advocate on behalf of our resident customers of TWW, and to be involved in any settlement discussions which may take place,” Lawrence Township manager Kevin Nerwinski wrote on Facebook. “Obviously, this is a good thing for us.”
The towns filed a motion to intervene in Mercer Superior Court July 8, allegeding that for years Trenton has moved money paid by suburban ratepayers away from the water utility into other areas of the city budget—with suburban residents essentially subsidizing the Trenton tax base. TWW serves 225,000 people in Trenton, Ewing and parts of Hamilton, Hopewell Township and Lawrence. The four suburban municipalities do not own any part of the water system.
The governments of Ewing, Hamilton and Lawrence demanded in their motion that the City of Trenton no longer control the water utility, proposing that Trenton either sell all of its water infrastructure to a private entity, submit to oversight by the state Board of Public Utilities or provide the four suburbs ownership and proportional control over TWW.
“The right to clean water is a human and constitutional right,” Hamilton Township director of law Elissa Grodd Schragger wrote in a July 8 letter to Lougy. “This is nonnegotiable. It is also clear that Trenton and TWW have repeatedly and egregiously missed benchmarks in fulfilling their obligation to provide safe and clean drinking water for the customers of TWW.”
The City of Trenton had disputed the claims, and pointed to efforts undertaken by Mayor Reed Gusciora’s administration, such as reducing the utility’s vacancy rate to 5%, launching a program to replace lead service lines in the system, making repairs and improvements at TWW’s water filtration plant and embarking on a $405-million, six-year capital improvement plan.
But the administration and the city council have been at loggerheads regarding spending at TWW for months now, and it was council’s decision to reject $83 million in improvement projects at TWW in May that spurred the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Attorney General’s Office to file suit against TWW and the City of Trenton June 15. DEP, in a statement announcing the suit, cited “a pattern of inaction” in city government.