Members of the Secaucus Municipal Utilities Authority (SMUA) voted Monday to authorize payment of $92,000 in legal fees to attorneys making final arrangements for a lawsuit that has taken more than a decade to come to trial and has already cost taxpayers an estimated $3 million. In 1990, two officials, the executive director and the chairman of the SMUA, were convicted of bid rigging in connection with the upgrade of the Koelle Sewerage Treatment plant. The $15 million project eventually reached $30 million due to cost overruns, leaving the SMUA to seek some sort of relief through the courts. Since then, the suit has dragged on, partly because many of the original contractors went out of business or were bought up by out-of-country concerns. While SMUA officials managed to settle part of the case in March, the more substantial part of the case against the former SMUA engineer continues and is scheduled to go to trial on June 5. The March settlement will have four parties paying the town $805,000. Last month, SMUA officials sought to settle its suit and the subsequent counter-suit with former SMUA engineer Joseph Lynch, but failed after the court reversed its decision to admit a witness favorable to Lynch's case. Lynch filed a $5 million suit against the SMUA claiming he had been wrongfully terminated in the middle of the upgrade and that money was still owed him. SMUA officials who wished to remain unnamed said the SMUA offered Lynch $1.1 million to settle, and that Lynch had agreed to go to arbitration with a settlement in mind. But in a last-minute move, Lynch apparently changed his mind, threatening to send the case to a projected June court date. The additional fees authorized by the SMUA on May 1 would provide their legal firm, Carrella-Bryne, with $75,000 to get ready for court and $17,000 to pay for needed expert witnesses against Lynch. Some community members would rather settle the case than go to court. "It would be healthy for this community to have it over and done with," said Town Administrator Anthony Iacono. "Going to court is a roll of the dice. Anyone could win." Good news around the corner
In other areas, sewerage issues look less dim. SMUA officials are apparently holding discussions with representatives from Allied Junction, a commercial development scheduled to be constructed above the Secaucus rail transfer station at the southeastern corner of town. Lawsuits instituted by the previous mayor had engendered bad feelings between the town and Allied Junction Corporation, prompting the corporation to investigate possible alternative sewerage hookups through the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission rather than the SMUA. This would have meant that Secaucus wouldn't get the $3 million to $5 million in fees at stake. According to one member of the SMUA, Secaucus has the first rights to the hookup and the discussions are an attempt to avoid sending the matter to court. "We'd be happy to hook them up," this SMUA member said. Another moneymaking proposal that may soon provide taxpayers with a little more relief is an agreement between the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission and the SMUA regarding watering services to the proposed new golf course in Lyndhurst. During last summer's drought, the town received rare permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to clean the streets and water lawns and flowers in non-sport related areas using the effluent from the sewage plant. The town sewage plant normally releases it effluent water into the Mill Creek. Because it is treated to a third level, the effluent is considered safe for such uses. In fact, the Secaucus facility is one of the few sewerage treatment centers in the state that provides for such a comprehensive filtering and the only facility near enough to provide the water needed to keep the golf course green. The HMDC has estimated it would need close to a half million gallons a day, and the SMUA is currently negotiating a cost for the water, something close to two or three cents per gallon per day. Between Allied Junction and the golf course, the town could see an additional yearly revenue of $10 million.