By JOHN T. WARD
Riverview Medical Center owes Red Bank $5.3 million for at least half a billion gallons of water consumed over a 33-year period, the borough alleges in a lawsuit.
In its January, 2019 complaint, the town contends the hospital hid an illegal connection and meter when it built the Blaisdell Pavilion wing in 1984.
The East Front Street hospital denies the allegations, and the dispute appears headed to mediation.
The lawsuit had not previously been publicly disclosed, and came to light with the release of the council’s agenda for Wednesday night. That’s when the governing body is expected to appoint a professional mediator, retired Ocean County Superior Court Judge Frank Buczynski, to seek a resolution of the dispute.
The borough is seeking at least $5.3 million in compensation for unpaid water and sewer usage that resulted from “knowing, continuous, and blatant violations” of ordinances, the borough contends in the complaint, filed in Superior Court in Freehold.
Named as defendants are Riverview Medical Center and its parent, Meridian Health Hospitals Corporation. At issue is water supplied to the seven-story, 27,000-square-foot Blaisdell Pavilion.
The $51 million “Frank F. Blaisdell Center for Health Resources” wing opened in March, 1984, when Riverview Hospital was renamed Riverview Medical Center, according to a report in the Red Bank Register.
The suit alleges that from June 11, 1984 to December 12, 2017, the defendants “maintained on their Red Bank hospital complex an illicit and concealed connection to the Borough’s Water System through the Blaisdell Meter.”
Borough ordinance prohibits anyone other than employees of the water department from “installing, setting, repairing, or removing any meters from the water system,” and that meters be installed in locations “convenient for reading and inspection,” the lawsuit states.
It also prohibits customers “from obtaining water from the water system on one premises to supply any other premises, regardless of whether the ownership of both premises is the same,” the suit claims.
According to the complaint, borough officials were at the hospital on October 25, 2017 installing new meters as part of a townwide meter-upgrade project when they discovered “an unregistered and inaccessible 4-inch Kent turbine water meter with serial number 82655800 that was apparently installed during the addition of the Blaisdell Wing.”
The wing is connected to the borough water system via an 8-inch line beneath Union Street, the suit claims.
From the complaint:
25. Once the 8-inch water service entered the basement of the Blaisdell Wing, it flowed through the Blaisdell Meter and then split in two directions to serve both the 8-inch fire service lines and the 4-inch domestic service lines throughout the Blaisdell Wing.
26. While the South Wing of the hospital complex is serviced by two separate water meters, the South Wing’s water system also interconnects to the Blaisdell Wing’s domestic service through a 4-inch pipe that contains no isolation valves or backflow prevention.
27. Because of the interconnection, the water flowing through the Blaisdell Meter simultaneously serviced the South Wing of Defendants’ hospital complex since at least 1984.
The borough replaced the meter, which showed 508,410,065 gallons had passed through it over the three decades of usage, the suit claims. Because of deterioration of the meter, actual usage is believed to be “substantially higher,” the borough maintains.
The suit demands payment of $5,296,256.18 for water and sewer service, plus an 8-percent interest charge, penalties and attorneys’ fees.
In an answer to the suit filed in April, 2019, the hospital contends that “the water lines within the hospital operate as an integrated water supply system as permitted by law.”
It also contends that it has always had meters, which were “installed by and known to the borough,” and that they’ve always been “unobstructed and readily accessible to borough employees.”
In an August 24 letter to Superior Court Judge Owen McCarthy, Riverview attorney Afiyfa Ellington said the two sides have agreed to nonbinding mediation and “propose to use best efforts” to resolve the matter by the end of November.
If the council approves his appointment, Buczynski would be paid a sum “not expected to, but may exceed $17,500,” the resolution states.
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