Water fight back in court today

The Trenton Water Works battle will resume today when Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda S. Feinberg hears arguments in court.

Based on today’s proceedings she will decide whether to reverse an earlier decision invalidating a citizens’ petition that sought to put Trenton’s $80 million sale of water works infrastructure to a public vote.

Citizens argue that their petition was valid because the infrastructure sale was subject to protest referendum since the infrastructure in question provides service to many city residents.

Also, they have taken the position that the Faulkner Act, the state statute that outlines Trenton’s form of government, does not expressly prohibit the protest of ordinances memorializing water utility sales as the other side has argued.

Lawyers for the city and New Jersey American Water Co., a foreign-owned private water company known as “The Wal-Mart of Water” because of massive size, poor service and frequent rate hikes, argue that the sale involves infrastructure that does not serve city residents and is therefore not subject to referendum.

Although both sides made use of water utility experts to argue their positions, none of those experts will be in court today since both sides agreed to holding a hearing based on previously submitted paper testimony.

City and water company lawyers plan on arguing that the citizen expert’s conclusion that the water system being sold provides pressure to 58 percent of city residents represents misuse of data contained in a report on separating the city system from piping and towers in the surrounding suburbs.

Citizens’ lawyer Jim Manahan, however, argues that the expert report’s conclusion that the system serves 58 of city residents is valid and means the sale is subject to referendum. In court papers he has also argued that nowhere in state law is there a prohibition on a citizens’ protest of a water utility sale, as city lawyers have argued.

Judge Feinberg said she plans on providing an oral opinion to the parties Wednesday morning.

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