City water petitioners to kick off appeal process

TRENTON – Algernon Ward, a Trenton Water Works protest committeeman, has announced that the petitioners committee is moving forward with an appeal of Judge Linda Feinberg’s March 17 decision.

The group has identified a document that was not disclosed to Judge Linda Feinberg before she ruled that the Trenton Water Works consisted of two separate systems, allowing the suburban system to be sold off without a public vote by referendum to New Jersey American Water Co. as required for other systems.

In court the petitioners relied on a certification from former Trenton Business Administrator William J. Guhl. He stated to the court that Trenton’s water utility was one system, serving residents in both the city and the surrounding townships.

Mr. Guhl certified that the much more than 5 percent of the city’s population depended for service not only on the pipes within the city, but pipes and storage tanks outside the City limits to supply the required pressure to the consumers.

“The City’s witnesses and lawyers told the court that there were two separate systems, not one,” said Mr. Ward. “They said to the court that the suburban part did not serve any users in Trenton, but they failed to show the judge what we learned to be the truth, contained in an engineering study which the City of Trenton and German-owned New Jersey American Water Co. provided to the State Board of Public Utilities.”

That report, by Colorado-based engineering company MWH, plainly describes the Trenton water utility as a single system, and goes on for more than 80 pages describing the method and the cost to be incurred in separating the single system into two systems.

It is clearly one system now, and the plaintiffs paid a lot of money to learn how, and at what cost, it could be divided into two. The report referred to by Mr. Ward was filed by the City of Trenton and NJ American Water Co. as “Joint Petitioners” before the State BPU.

It was part of Exhibit JP-13, (the other part being an earlier engineering report from 2000 that had been reviewed and updated by MWH). Judge Feinberg declined to consider the working knowledge of former Administrator Bill Guhl, despite her expressed respect for his ability, noting that he was not an engineer.

“However”, said Mr. Ward, “looking at the absent MWH report from 2006, it squarely and plainly supports Mr. Guhl’s certification and clearly refutes the impression left by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. It is interesting to us that not one of the Plaintiffs’ engineers filed a certification contradicting Mr. Guhl’s certification.”

At this time, unless the City can explain its failure to disclose the 2006 MWH report and how it supports the notion that there are two separate systems in place, the petitioners are committed to having this matter reconsidered by Judge Feinberg, in light of this clear and convincing report.

Failing that, the petitioners intend to appeal to the Appellate Division to protect the right of citizens to protest all ordinances, and especially those which purport to sell off major public assets. When the petitioners start the process this week, it will be with the aid of an engineer experienced in municipal water systems to make clear to the court the meaning of the engineering report that the City and New Jersey American Water Co. submitted to the BPU but not to Judge Feinberg.


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