MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Middle Township Committee on Monday, June 17, unanimously approved an ordinance outlining a deal with Lower Township’s Municipal Utility Authority to provide drinking water to the Del Haven section and surrounding neighborhoods, where saltwater intrusion threatens residential wells.
Other areas of the township rely on New Jersey American Water to supply water or continue to use groundwater wells. But in the beachfront area of Del Haven, wells have become increasingly salty over the past several years.
Township officials have said action needed to be taken, and that this is the best deal for residents of all the available options.
“We’re proud of the agreement,” said Mayor Timothy Donohue. He said he understood that some residents had questions. “But we worked very hard to put this together and in a way that will bring clean water for decades to come to the residents of Del Haven and the Green Creek area.”
As approved, the agreement will mandate properties connect to the new system. An ordinance creating that mandate is expected to come for a vote at the next Township Committee meeting. Without that provision, Donohue said, the deal would not get done because the finances would not work out.
“Some of those people have really suffered with poor water for a very long time. And some people are very happy with their water,” he said. “If your water’s good now, chances are in 10 or 15 years it won’t be.”
Several Del Haven residents attended the meeting to question the agreement. Most did not oppose the deal, but some wanted details clarified.
Glenn Flack, of Del Haven, had the most extensive and detailed questions. He started by saying he was not opposed to bringing municipal water where residents have relied on wells for decades.
“One comment, we’re all in agreement, we need the water,” he said. Still, he wanted to explore the financial aspects in much greater detail, including more financial details on the project.
“We’d be happy to share them. They’re all public information,” said Donohue.
For most homeowners within the project area, the water rate would be about $54 per quarter, according to information presented at previous meetings, with an additional charge of $99.41 per quarter to cover the cost of the water main installation. That project is expected to cost a total of about $10 million, including extending the water mains from the Villas section of Lower Township to the project area.
Some residents wanted to know if the $99.41 charge to cover the debt service would eventually go away. It would, according to attorney Erin Law. But by the time the bond was retired it was possible the authority would accrue new debt for the project area. Law represented the firm McManimon, Scotland and Baumann at the meeting, which negotiated the deal and advised the township.
Homeowners will also face a one-time connection fee of $1,600 to tie into the system, which can be incorporated into the water bill interest-free, for an additional $80 per quarter until that total is paid off after five years.
At previous meetings, township officials said they looked at other possibilities, including the township creating its own water utility or looking to New Jersey American Water, but this was the least expensive option and would not mean new debt for the township.
Questions from Flack covered the operations of the Lower Township MUA, including the money the authority takes in from cell phone towers placed on water towers, an aspect of the contract that Donohue said he had not considered. Flack also wanted local representation on the Lower Township MUA board.
Donohue said it was important to him that the rate payers cover the cost of the project, without impact to Middle Township taxpayers. The deal would not charge Lower Township water users for the cost of the Middle Township portion of the work, nor charge Middle Township water users the cost of debt service for projects in Lower Township.
“I feel vulnerable. I lost control of my water,” said Flack. “I had a well in the back yard. I had total control. Now I’ve lost control of it. And I’m looking for the lowest cost.”
“Sir, your well’s not guaranteed, though,” said Law. “And in any given year, if that well goes away, it’s going to cost you a lot more than this.”
Donohue said if the agreement was with New Jersey American Water, the township would have no control over those costs, either.
“It’s not as cheap as we would all like it to be, but it’s the cheapest water that we’re going to be able to bring to Del Haven. And that is the bottom line at this point,” said Donohue.
Other residents wanted to know about how soon they could connect to the system. It will be about two years, they were told, a year for the permitting process and another for construction. Water should start flowing by the spring of 2021.
At the close of the meeting, Committeeman Michael Clark thanked the residents from Del Haven for attending.
“It has been a long process. I remember when I started six years ago, people were complaining about their water in Del Haven and Green Creek,’” he said. “Not everybody’s happy. I think we did a good job of getting the best deal for the residents and that’s why it took so long. All of us up here would have liked to get this done a lot quicker.”