Some apparent misperceptions about a house fire in Fair Haven last summer have, ironically, jump-started efforts to correct a problem that’s existed for decades: inadequate water pressure in the western part of the borough and in easternmost Red Bank.


And the onus for the fix in both towns is on Red Bank, which supplies water to 170 properties in Fair Haven through mains that in some cases are more than a century old and half the diameter they should be, according to Red Bank’s Administrator, Stanley Sickels.

Sickels met Wednesday with Fair Haven’s new mayor, Michael Halfacre, and other officials from both towns to discuss the nature of the problem and what might be done about it.

“I’m happy with the plan we came up with, as long we stick to the timetable,” which calls for a study of the troubled portion of the system to be completed in about a month, says Halfacre.

The blame for the feeble pressure, Sickels says, lies with undersized water mains, which by modern standards should be 8 inches in diameter. They start out that big, but heading east along River Road, “right around Caro Court, our main drops from 8 inches down to 4 inches, and goes well into Fair Haven,” he says.

Along a second branch of the system, the pipe size shrinks from 8 inches on Marion Street to 4 inches along Harrison Avenue and then goes back up to 6 inches along Lake Avenue, an increase that further reduces pressure.

For years, Fair Haven residents have been aware of weak pressure and volume, says Halfacre, but their complaints “were anecdotal. One guy said to me that he always thought that it was the line from his house to the main that was the problem. He didn’t realize that everyone on the street had that problem.”

An August house fire on Lake Avenue seems to have brought the issue to the table, in part because of word that low pressure had hampered firefighters in their efforts to quell the blaze.

That, in turn, fueled speculation that a fire hydrant wrapped in plastic on River Road had been decommissioned by the fire department because of inadequate water pressure. (Halfacre himself alluded to this when he emailed redbankgreen about our Dec. 21 ‘Where Have I Seen This‘ entry, a photo of the shrouded hydrant.)

It turns out that there was, in fact, significantly lower pressure at the time of the fire, because the Red Bank Water Utility was at the exact same time flushing its system, according to Sickels. But Fair Haven Fire Chief Richard Townshend (who lives on Lake Avenue) says the lack of pressure did not create a critical situation. After a minute or two delay, firefighters had hooked up a pumper to a hydrant on a larger main fed by New Jersey American Water Co. on River Road, he says.

“It’s not a problem we experienced before, just that one incident,” says Townshend. “It’s not something we’re overly concerned with.”

Moreover, Halfacre says he has since learned that the wrapped River Road hydrant, near the corner of Lincoln Avenue, was taken out of service by Red Bank, because it is “essentially, an orphan,” the sole outlet on an inadequate 4-inch main. That stretch of River Road, like the rest of Fair Haven, is serviced by New Jersey American through adequate mains.

“There’s plenty, plenty, plenty of hydrant coverage in that area, so that’s not a concern,” Townshend says of the bagged hydrant.

Still, the upshot of all the recent attention to the pressure issue has resulted in progress toward a fix.

“That fire either illustrated the problem, or got people talking about it,” says Halfacre, “and that led us to this meeting.”

Sickels has dispatched Red Bank Borough Engineer Richard Kosenski to conduct a study, which will involve testing the pressure at various points in the system and digging some test holes to determine exactly what’s in the ground, pipewise. He’ll then come up with a computer model of what exists and how it might be upgraded.

That’s expected to take about 30 days. Sickels says he’s hopeful that an estimated cost of the project can be worked up in time for inclusion in the annual water utility improvement bond program. Meanwhile, he’s encouraged Fair Haven officials to consider including main replacements if they’re planning to do road improvements on any of the affected streets in the near future.

In the past, New Jersey American has offered to take over the service that Red Bank provides in Fair Haven, but first wants the system upgraded at municipal cost, a proposal that makes no economic sense to Red Bank, says Sickels.

Email this story