Eight years ago, North Bergen officials knew that the town’s sewage treatment plant was in need of replacement, but were hindered by the prospect of a hefty bill.
Town Administrator Christopher Pianese said that he was just beginning his position when a resolution guaranteeing debt for the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority at $60 million to build a new plant landed on his desk.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency had informed North Bergen officials at that time that the township needed a new sewage treatment plant. The Central Treatment Plant on Westside Avenue had lived past its life expectancy and was failing. It continually needed repairs and new equipment to maintain state standards of removing pollutants.
Numerous engineers looked at the project, and most felt that it would cost around $100 million to build a new plant, not $60 million, Pianese said.
On top of that, the new plant would increase the MUA’s yearly operating budget from around $2.5 million, to $5 million.
Eight years later, the township has almost completed an alternative, less expensive plan.
North Bergen is in the process of connecting to Jersey City lines instead. Thus, the combined sewerage (the water that comes from plumbing and flushing toilets, as well as the rainwater collected from storm sewers) will be pumped to the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission’s (PVSC) plant in Newark, the largest on the East Coast. After the combined sewerage gets there, it is treated and released into the ocean, said MUA Executive Director Frank Pestana.
The project is costing around $45 million.
“I personally think this administration, [Mayor Nicholas Sacco] and the Board of Commissioners, everyone on the board from the top down, made one of the best decisions they could have made,” said Pianese.
Still met standard, but harder
For years, the town was being fined because the existing Central Treatment Plant was failing. Pestana said last week that by 2000 it was already about 20 years old and had outlived its usefulness.
“Even before that point, we were experiencing some major breakdowns and it was costing a lot of money to repair and manage the plant,” said Pestana.
According to their permit with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the MUA must now remove 85 percent of the pollutants from the water.
While the equipment failures were reducing the plant’s capabilities, Pestana said they were still able to meet the state 85 percent standard.
Will close in July
The Central Treatment Plant is slated to close in July. Then, a pump house will be turned on and the sewerage will be transported through Jersey City.
(Thirty percent of the township’s water, mostly along River Road in the northeast most part of town, will still be treated at the smaller Woodcliff Plant on River Road. This water is treated before being released into the Hudson River.)
When the change is made in July, 30-inch pipes will run from the site of the former Central Treatment Plant into Jersey City, whose sewerage system is already connected to the PVSC.
Pianese said that the hard construction costs were almost at $30 million, including piping. He said that the biggest cost was the upgrade to the Jersey City pump station to make sure that North Bergen’s sewage could get pumped onward at $14 million. North Bergen also cleaned the Jersey City’s sewerage lines they are connecting to for $2 million.
Two snags along construction have caused costs to rise, as well as delays.
Pestana said that at the Paterson Plank overpass, when construction workers were installing the pipe, they hit a foundation and had to come up with a solution.
While placing pipe beneath the Amtrak trestle in Jersey City, they bore into some “debris” and are finding a way to continue, said Pestana.
On top of construction costs, North Bergen entered into an $8 million start-up contract with the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority in order to link up to PVSC. The Jersey City MUA has similar contracts with Kearny, Bayonne, and Union City.
North Bergen will pump up to eight million gallons per day through the Jersey City lines. Service charges will rise by 5 percent every year, from roughly $306,000 escalating to $988,000 over the 25-year deal which they entered into in 2006.
In 2016, North Bergen will begin paying an annual PVSC a service fee of $ 7 million for 14 years for sewage treatment.
North Bergen will pay the PVSC out of their $2.5 million operating budget for sewage treatment once they flip the switch.
The project was largely financed through the New Jersey Infrastructure Trust, giving their loans extremely low interest rates.
Pianese said that the $45 million project still will cost the town less than building an entire new plant.
Selling the plant
Once the plant is closed, the MUA can sell the 1.5 acre real estate to reduce their debt from construction.
Pianese said that residents can expect to see a $10 increase in their water bills this year.
North Bergen will be able to treat a maximum of 14 million gallons of sewage, while their current plant can only handle 10 million at most.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com. In major storms, extra sewerage likely went into creeks
At the last two commissioner meetings, Herbert Shaw questioned the council on how much sewage left the plant untreated during the rain deluges of March.
“That’s always an issue even if the plant was brand new,” said MUA Executive Director Frank Pestana. “Being that North Bergen is a combined sewerage system, the rain water goes into the system and comes to the plant. The plant is only capable of handling 10 million a day. When it rains that could spike up to 20 million; the plant is not hydraulically able to handle that amount.”
He said that the plant has several outfalls in the creek nearby, which is legally allowed by law. However, there was no way to know just how much during a rainfall is released this way.
Thus, combined sewerage from indoor plumbing and rain may have leaked into the creek, which ultimately flows into the Passaic River.
While North Bergen will be limited by how much sewerage Jersey City will accept, he said that the MUA will be better able to handle huge rainfalls in the future.