Utility going under as Suez talks continue


Kearny is setting in motion a plan to scrap its water utility in favor of ultimately having a private firm – Suez (formerly United Water Environmental Services) – run the system – but not own it.

Last Tuesday, the municipal governing body voted to ask the state Civil Service Commission to approve a plan for the layoff of four of the six employees with the expectation that “they would be employees of Suez,” Mayor Alberto Santos said.

Whether all four would be hired by Suez remains to be determined, however, the mayor added. The town is also exploring whether any of those employees have “Civil Service rights to lateral transfers,” he said.

The other two utility employees “are eligible for transfer to the Department of Public Works,” he said.

But those prospective transfers could be derailed if it is found that one or more of those municipal employees who were let go at the end of 2011 as economic casualties may have the right to be offered employment first, the mayor acknowledged, when asked about the possibility by The Observer.

When asked to name the utility employees involved in each case, however, Santos declined, explaining that, “The layoff plan has to first be approved by Civil Service before it can be implemented. Notices [of layoffs] would go out if approved by Civil Service. Until that occurs, I’m not making reference to any names.”

And, he added, “The [layoff] plan is not a public document until it’s approved by Civil Service.”

The mayor did say, however, that four employees are assigned to “operational or managerial” duties while two are handling “customer service” responsibilities.

At the same meeting, the mayor and Town Council also voted to extend “until June 30, 2016,” existing agreements with Suez “for water meter reading billing, collections and customer service” and for “interim water operations and management.”

For the billing, collections and customer service work, Kearny pays Suez more than $28,000 per month and for the interim operations/management duties, nearly $12,000 per month, according to Santos.

And, he said, the town is liable for a 15% penalty fee if those agreements are prematurely canceled.

So why is the town acting now to dismantle the water utility? “This is not our first choice,” Santos said. “But we lost our certified water purveyor when our water superintendent Richie Ferraioli retired [March 1, 2015] and it’s hard to find someone with that qualification.”

Richie’s brother, Assistant Water Superintendent Ted Ferraioli, tendered a letter of resignation March 2, 2015, but as of last week, he was still on the job. He does not have the W-3 water system operator license certification required in Kearny.

So the town is relying on Suez to satisfy that obligation.

Part of Suez’s responsibilities as the manager of the municipal water system is to respond to emergency situations such as water main breaks like the one on the morning of Wednesday, March 9, when, according to Kearny Town Administrator Michael Martello, a contractor excavating to install monitoring wells drilled through a 30-inch main along Central Ave., causing a pipe to rupture, disrupting water service to industrial customers in the area.

Martello said that before the drilling began, the contractor’s representative had visited the Kearny Water Department to inspect mark-outs showing location of water pipes in the area along Central. Nonetheless, the contractor apparently miscalculated and drilled into the pipe, he said.

Suez personnel, working with Ted Ferraioli, arranged for an emergency bypass to have water sent to the Hudson County Jail and notified area industries about the break.

Water service was restored by Thursday evening, he said.

Santos said that once the town gets a bill from Suez for the cost of the repairs, it will send it along to the responsible party for payment. That will likely be the state Department of Transportation (DOT), he said.

Suez spokeswoman Treva Spence Dupree said the company was alerted to the incident at 10 a.m. and immediately sent an emergency crew to the site. She said the crew stopped the flow from the stricken main and opened another valve to allow for an interconnector to provide an alternate flow. Suez called in Hackensack contractor J. Fletcher Creamer to handle repairs to the pipe.

Neither Martello nor Dupree nor the DOT could identify the drilling contractor.

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