HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Water once again filled the streets of Hoboken after a main broke near the city’s PATH station Tuesday evening.
The 16th water main break in 64 days and the fourth in eight days comes amid a growing war of words between Mayor Ravi Bhalla and officials from SUEZ Water.
In a summer that has seen Mile Square City plagued by water issues, Bhalla has been searching high and low for answers. SUEZ says part of the reason for repeat water main ruptures is city infrastructure dating to the 1800s, but the mayor said so many water main breaks in 64 days is abnormal and unacceptable.
“In our view, there can only be one explanation: SUEZ has mismanaged our system,” Bhalla said.
SUEZ responded, claiming 16 breaks in just over 60 days is about average for Hoboken. In response to the mayor, the company tweeted, “Actually, what the residents don’t deserve is infrastructure dating back to the 1800s, but we’ll fix it while you’ve got it.”
In what’s become an ongoing blame game between Hoboken officials and SUEZ, the angry finger-pointing hit a fever pitch earlier Tuesday. At a morning press conference, Bhalla showed reporters a chart that documents the number of water main ruptures in Hoboken since that start of an underground project facilitated by SUEZ Water to upgrade the city’s water meters.
The mayor and SUEZ executives met privately on Monday to discuss the issue.
“They, SUEZ, conceded that the water meter volt could be a contributing factor in the spike in water main breaks,” Bhalla said.
“Any construction project in the city of Hoboken could cause main breaks,” SUEZ Senior VP of Communications Rich Henning said at the press conference. “Why is that? Simply because the system is so old. Hundred-year-old pipes have outlasted their usefulness.”
Mayor Bhalla announced he’d up the ante, outlining a plan of action:
First, he declared a city emergency which he says will allow the city to expedite its investigation into the problem and make repairs. Mayor Bhalla says the city plans to take SUEZ to court on Wednesday so they can obtain data from the company he hopes will help identify the cause of the water main breaks.
“Part of the decision to take SUEZ to court tomorrow is to compel them to give us the information necessary to make those determinations,” Bhalla said Tuesday evening after the latest break.
Councilman Michael Defusco wonders if the ongoing blame game will make any progress in the short term.
“By pursuing legal action in this early juncture, we’re putting us on the losing end of any productive negotiation,” he said.
Hoboken officials also hope to get approval to rebid the city’s water contract with SUEZ sometime next week. SUEZ officials responded, saying the city is simply putting a costly Band-Aid on the problem that is hundreds of years old. As for residents, they told CBS2 they just want a resolution.
“It’s not the mayor’s fault. It’s the previous administration’s going back many, many years ago, so he’s doing the best he can,” Drew Moss said.
Crews were hard at work near the city’s PATH station late Tuesday, digging to the water main to begin the latest in a seemingly endless barrage of repairs.