By JOHN T. WARD
The borough council has scheduled a single-issue special meeting Monday night to consider whether to authorize its engineering consultant, T&M Associates, to draw up plans for a new, 750-foot well at the Chestnut Street public utilities complex.
Town officials said the new well has been mandated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as a backup to the primary supply source, a well atop Tower Hill on the East Side.
The council appeared set to approve the engineering work last Monday, but Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer said she had not had time to review the matter, having only received supporting documentation that day. Mayor Pasquale Menna suggested holding a special meeting on November 30.
The issue couldn’t wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting, officials said, because a delay might imperil the borough’s ability to land an interest-free loan from the DEP’s Environmental Infrastructure Trust for the project, which is expected to cost about $1 million, according to borough Administrator Stanley Sickels.
The move to build the well arose in the wake of a miscalculation by the DEP led the agency to inform the borough last year that it didn’t have adequate water capacity for new development. The error was quickly fixed, said Sickels, but in the process, the DEP realized that Red Bank needed a new verification that a backup supply would be available.
In the past, New Jersey American Water Company, which supplies the borough’s water for six months of the year, had routinely vouched for its ability to meet Red Bank’s water needs in an emergency. But after a massive system failure at NJAW’s Swimming River Reservoir in 2012 — a catastrophe that Red Bank was unaffected by — the water company declined to offer the same assurance, Sickels said. The company’s lawyers were concerned that the assurance would be viewed as a binding legal obligation, he said.
That led the DEP to direct the borough to come up with its own alternative, he said.
“Capacity-wise, we’re fine” with the existing supply, said Sickels. “But the [DEP] rules says we have to have a backup to our largest well in an emergency.”
The council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and will be limited to the issue of the well engineering, according to a notice on the borough website.
Speaking of water, the borough’s Department of Public Utilities has a new director. The council approved the hiring of Cliff Keen, at a salary of $102,000, to replace Gary Watson, who retired.
Keen most recently served as chief finance officer for the Township of Ocean in Ocean County, where he previously spent nearly seven yeas as superintendent of the utilities department.
Sickels said Keen was selected over in-house candidates because he holds a trio of state DEP and Department of Community Affairs licenses — for water treatment, water distribution and wastewater collection — that other applicants didn’t.
That will enable the borough to save the $40,000 a year it has been paying for a part-time assistant water operator since 2003, Menna said.
“Believe me, this is cheap in terms of the going rate,” Menna said of Keen’s salary.
Watson, a borough native, had previously served 27 years in the police department, retiring as captain, and returning several years later to run the utilities operation, which includes water, sewer, trash and street maintenance. He also served as assistant borough administrator.