NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Brian Levine, the mayor of Franklin Township is not happy with New Brunswick’s Water Utility, which provides millions of gallons of water to his town’s residents each and every day.
Levine said he was surprised that New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill never contacted him about major problems at the city’s Water Utility, which serves residents in New Brunswick, Franklin, and Milltown.
“They never reached out to me… If they’re guilty of what is alleged, then I think it’s a terrible thing,” Levine said in a phone interview last week
But Cahill’s longtime Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin appeared to tell a different story: “We’ve spoken to both the towns. Both were understanding, both offered their support,” he said during a tumultuous City Council meeting last week.
Levine shot back, “I’m not supporting anyone who would pull a scam on the public. That’s how municipalities get bad names.”
“It’s going to cost me time and money to either get the word out or make sure the water is okay,” he said.
Loughlin has not responded to multiple email and phone messages, and personal visits to his office.
As we reported on November 14, for at least three years, the city’s 146-year-old public utility was lying about the quality of the water it was providing city residents, and residents of the two neigboring communities that buy the water in bulk.
Loughlin, who was in charge of the utility when the violations occurred, hinted that the municipalities could potentially re-evaluate their decision to regularly purchase millions of gallons of “bulk water” from the New Brunswick Water Utility.
“I don’t know what their long-term decision will be… I’m sure they expect compliant water just as our residents.”
Today, for the first time, New Brunswick made an effort to notify the utility’s thousands of customers of the violations.
A notice mailed out to residences and businesses was also posted on the city website: “During the period of January 2010 to May 2013, the New Brunswick Water Department violated numerous treatment and monitoring requirements of the Federal and State Safe Drinking Water Act Regulations.”
While emphasizing that the water currently meets standards, the notice admitted that the utility lied to the state on numerous occasions to cover up violations that would have required notifications be made to the public.
“New Brunswick repeatedly violated national drinking water quality standards for turbidity, total coliforms, and residual disinfectant levels. New Brunswick failed to provide the required information or submitted false information in reports to the NJDEP and failed to issue mandatory public health and safety notices when these violations occurred.”
Milltown and Franklin each have separate agreements to purchase water from the City of New Brunswick, agreements that could be put in jeopardy if New Brunswick can’t regain the trust of their neighbors.
According to the Franklin Reporter & Advocate, elected officials in Franklin are already saying that New Brunswick should pay for additional water testing in light of the scandal.
“We should go after New Brunswick,” the publication quoted at-large Councilman Brian Regan as saying at last night’s Township Council meeting.
“If we incur additional costs because of the charges that the [New Brunswick] results have been falsified, and we have to run additional tests, the cost of that should be incurred by New Brunswick, not by us.”
Franklin’s water department supplies millions of gallons of water to a population almost as large as New Brunswick’s. The water comes from multiple sources including New Brunswick Water Utility, and North Brunswick’s water department, and NJ American Water, a private company.
On Monday, at Milltown’s Boro Council meeting, Councilman Randy Farkas read a prepared statement: “This matter is currently being investigated, and it is anticipated that additional information will be made available at the conclusion of the investigation.”
“The Borough of Milltown Samples water independently from New Brunswick and in fact does more tests than those required by DEP to guarantee the quality of our drinking water and the safety of our residents,” Farkas said.
Farkas confirmed that Edward O’Rourke, the man accused of submitting intentionally false paperwork to the state, also worked for Milltown in a shared services arrangement.
“Milltown receives its water from New Brunswick and in a shared service, used New Brunswick’s licensed water operator as our licensed water operator.”
According to the Franklin’s website, around the same time O’Rourke was falsifying reports in New Brunswick, he was also the licensed operator for that community. His name appears as the licensed operator on the township’s 2010 water quality report.
The same month that the Department of Environmental Protection began investigating problems with water cloudiness in New Brunswick, Franklin Township reported a spike in “total coliforms,” a measure of microscopic bacteria in the water.
According to an “Unresolved Total Coliform Notice” made the following month to Franklin customers, “We took 92 samples for coliform bacteria during June 2013; 9 or 9.7% of those samples showed the presence of coliform bacteria. The standard is that no more than 5 percent of our samples may do so.”
The July 12 notification concluded the problem was no longer an issue, after repeat testing.
“The Total Coliform was reported during the week of June 10, we took 9 repeat water samples on 6/14/2013 in the area where positive coliform were reported. All results come back negative. To ensure good water quality, we also flushed our water mains. Total 94 hydrants were flushed.”
“We do not detect coliform bacteria now.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.