For Immediate Release
EDISON, NJ - Local residents and community activists announced at City Hall this morning that they have collected over 3,500 signatures on a petition that could trigger a public vote on whether the township should have permanent, public ownership, operation and management of its essential water and sewer systems.
If the Edison Municipal Council does not enact an ordinance in line with the petition, a ballot question would ask residents if they support a proposal to retain public control over the city’s sewer system, and restore public control over part of the drinking water system.
“This initiative gives Edison a chance to operate its water system in the public interest,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Junior Romero. “Privatization has proven to be costly to ratepayers across the state and the country. If the Council does not pass the proposed ordinance now being submitted by this groundswell of petitioners, the public will get the chance to decide whether or not to restore public control and oversight over these essential resources.”
The drive for public control of water occurred in the midst of council discussions about a controversial water privatization deal. Earlier this year, Mayor Thomas Lankey unveiled a 40-year, $811 million proposal to lease the city’s sewer system and part of its drinking water system to Suez and the Wall Street private equity firm KKR. The proposal has drawn tremendous opposition from Edison residents, who worry about substantial rate hikes, a loss of public control, and diminished service.
“We urge the township council to delay its decision on the Suez concession deal until we, the voters, have had a chance to decide the future of our water and sewer systems at the ballot,” said Edison community leader Keith Hahn. “It would be irresponsible for the township to invest more resources into pursuing a deal that could be invalidated at special election. It’s our water, our vote.”
The proposed deal resembles similar concession arrangements with the city of Bayonne, New Jersey, and the borough of Middletown, Pennsylvania, with Suez and KKR, where municipal officials were caught off guard by unexpected water rate increases.
In April, the City Council voted 5-2 to reject a proposal to put the Suez deal to a public vote. Instead, residents gathered the necessary signatures required to protect public ownership and control of the sewer and water systems, regardless of the specifics of the proposed agreement.
The water and sewer systems are assets that the citizens do not desire to lease, sell, or outsource to a private company, and advocates point out maintaining public operation and management will ensure greater transparency and public control.