New Brunswick allocates $15.5M to water utility improvements amidst ongoing investigations
New Brunswick has allocated about $15.5 million for water utility improvements — ranging from architectural repairs to filtration enhancements, said Public Information Officer Jennifer Bradshaw.
These developments were proposed amidst ongoing criminal investigations into two former water utility employees.
“These improvements to our facilities will aid us in continuing to deliver approximately 13 million gallons of water per day to our customers utilizing efficient modern technology and infrastructure,” Bradshaw said.
The improvements also include upgrades to pre-treatment facilities, replenishments to the chemical feed systems and upgrades to one of the city’s pump stations, she said.
The City of New Brunswick does not currently have a timeline for the completion of the project.
“We are in the process of going out to bid for an engineering firm to assist with plans for the improvements,” Bradshaw said.
New Brunswick's water utility system has faced numerous scandals in recent years, including a history of employee turnover and quality infractions.
Two water utility employees, William Ortiz and Joseph DeBonis, were suspended without pay in December, according to a City Hall press release.
During the trial Ortiz was charged with bribery, while Debonis was charged with tampering with public records. Both men were also charged with official misconduct, according to the release.
Ortiz and DeBonis are among five water utility employees that have been suspended since 2013, according to the New Brunswick Today.
Both men were hired by former Water Utility Director Shawn Maloney who committed suicide near the treatment plant in 2007 after learning that he was being investigated in a federal corruption case, according to the New Brunswick Today.
In December City Hall published a press release informing the public about heightened levels of total trihalomethanes (TTHM) in their drinking water throughout the month.
“Samples taken in early August showed unusually high levels above 80 parts per billion (ppb) at three testing sites,” Bradshaw said in a public notice released in late December.
Trihalomethanes are a group of chemicals that are formed when chlorine interacts with organic matter in water. They have been known to induce "carcinogenic activity" in laboratory animals, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In New Brunswick, measures were immediately taken to reduce trihalomethane levels — and they were successful, according to the City Hall press release.
Just one year before the events of December 2016, Edward O'Rourke — former licensed operator of the New Brunswick and Milltown water utilities — pleaded guilty to submitting false water purity testing data to the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to an Office of the Attorney General press release.
The charges included "corruption of public resources" and "third-degree violations of the Safe Water Drinking Act."
In addition to trihalomethanes, another harmful water contaminant was discovered in May 2016. According to NJ Advanced Media, the New Brunswick School District found elevated levels of lead in six city schools.
The highest lead levels were found at McKinley Community School, where one drinking fountain measured at 12 times the legal limit.
Lavenberg is the fourth director to serve the New Brunswick Water Utility in three years. Despite plans to update facilities, the utility is facing an ongoing investigation by state and local authorities, according to NJ Advance Media.
Manya Goldstein is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies and political science. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. She can be found on Twitter @ManyaG18.