OBMUA continues to do more with less, providing water and sewer services

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OLD BRIDGE – With 40 square miles and some 20,000 residential and commercial water and sewer service accounts, the Old Bridge Municipal Utilities Authority (OBMUA) has its hands full all the while keeping rate costs low for customers.

The OBMUA is fresh off replacing 10,000 feet of water main in the Knollcroft section of Cliffwood Beach to restore water pressure and fire flow to the development.

Michael Roy, engineer of OBMUA, said that in the Laurence Harbor section of the township, the OBMUA is working on abandoning the four-inch water mains.

He explained the Laurence Harbor section is older and it has the lowest water pressure of all the sections of the township.

“First, [there were] two-inch water mains, then four-inch, then six-inch,” he said. “When six-inch lines were put in the 1960s, that was for fire protection to put fire hydrants around. What they didn’t do is they didn’t switch over the services of everybody from a four-inch line to a six [inch]. All they did was interconnect the six with the four kind of like reinforcing it. What we are going to do now is abandon the four-inch [water mains] because when it breaks you have to basically shut off a large area … it puts a lot of people out of service and it’s a maintenance problem.”

The OBMUA will look for low interest loans for the project and subject to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approval, they hope to bid on the project sometime this year, Roy said.

In addition, Roy said the OBMUA had been looking at and studying to see if a beach preservation project would be feasible in the Laurence Harbor section. He said the OBMUA has a force main pipeline that goes along the beach by the police station that sometimes gets eroded.

“The problem [with a beach preservation project] to protect [the pipeline from] erosion, people [wouldn’t be able to] use the beach,” he said. “We are trying to balance that out. If you look over by the police station, you see the rift raft over there and that solves the problem, but it also blocks the beach. There are some tubes we can put down that might help so forth and maybe a wall.”

Roy said the force main is completely encased by concrete.

“We are protected, it’s not an environmental hazard … it’s just that it gets to be a tripping hazard if someone falls into an eroded trench,” he said.

The OBMUA administrative staff – Roy, Guy Donatelli, executive director/water superintendent, Michelle Smith, comptroller, and Charles Winkler, sewer superintendent – presented highlights and future projects in the works at a Township Council meeting on Jan. 28.

Roy said through downsizing the authority has been able to keep their operation cost increases at a zero percent increase for the past 15 years.

“During the recession, we downsized, we went from 100 employees to about 66 employees with the help of technology that we added to our operations,” he said. “The reduction in staff helped us keep control of the budget and we were able to not raise rates with operational costs alone.”

Roy said the reduction in operations has been due to attrition.

“We didn’t lay anyone off,” he said. “Over a period of time, when we had four people retire, we would hire two to three people; if two people retired, we would hire one person. Over time we reduced the workload.”

Roy said the reduction of employees occurred when Old Bridge’s population was growing. He said from the 2000 census to the 2010 census, the population grew about 5,000 people.

The OBMUA has five Board of Commissioners – Frank Weber, chairman, Richard Greene, secretary, Arthur Carullo, commissioner, Anita Greenberg-Belli, treasurer, and John E. Murphy, III, assistant treasurer – as well as an alternate, Paul Carlock, assistant secretary – who oversee the OBMUA budgets, expenditures and improvements, as well as making other policy decisions. Daily operations are managed by the executive director.

Roy said two board commissioners are council members; Greenberg-Belli and Murphy and past commissioners have been council members.

He said although, the OBMUA has been able to keep costs down, rate increases have been passed along for the additional costs that come from Middlesex Water Company and the Middlesex County Utilities Authority that have been forced upon the OBMUA through DEP regulations.

Middlesex Water Company rate increases for water saw a $277,000, or 3.2 percent increase in 2019.

The minimum quarterly charge for water as of Aug. 27, 2018, is currently $72.46 per quarter for the first 6,000 gallons. All gallons consumed above 6,000 gallons, in addition to the base rate, are charged based on a rate structure – for residential or commercial utilizing 6,000 to 20,000 gallons, the rate is $3.31 per 1,000 gallons, and for more than 130,000 gallons, the rate is $7.69 per 1,000 gallons.

For senior citizens or permanently disabled, the minimum water rates is $57.97 per quarter.

The residential current quarterly sewer rate is $142.77. For senior citizens and permanently disabled, the quarterly sewer rate is $114.22.

In 2005, the OBMUA did not see a water rate increase; however, taxpayers saw a 2.06 percent sewer rate increase through the Middlesex County Utilities Authority.

The largest percentage the sewer rate increased was in 2011, when the rate increased by 17.1 percent. The largest water rate increases occurred in 2010 and 2012 with 9.13 percent increases.

The OBMUA’s mission is to provide two critical vital services – continue to supply safe drinking water for both domestic use and fire protection that exceeds state and federal standards and efficiently collect all household, commercial, sanitary wastewater for treatment.

The authority maintains approximately 300 miles of water mains carrying – 6 inches to 20 inches – in diameter and approximately 2,000 fire hydrants. The Water Distribution System also consists of eight groundwater wells, two water treatment plants, three water booster stations and eight available water storage tanks that have a total storage capacity of 20 million gallons. The OBMUA treats approximately 1.5 billion gallons of groundwater each year and purchases an additional amount of surface water of approximately one billion gallons annually from Middlesex Water Company.

The OBMUA also maintains approximately 300 miles of gravity sewer pipe, sewer force main, and trunk sewers which serves all seven drainage areas of the township and are fed by many smaller collector sewer systems. The major trunk sewers are called the Iresick Brook, Deep Run, Runyon and the Laurence Harbor Trunk Sewers. The OBMUA owns, operates and maintains over 2,000 manholes and 35 wastewater pumping stations throughout the township that collects and conveys approximately two billion gallons annually of wastewater to the Middlesex County Utilities Authority for wastewater treatment.

For 14 years in a row, Roy said the OBMUA and its chief financial officers have received financial and reporting achievements from the Government Finance Officers Association of USA and Canada and OBMUA’s new fuel facility project at the Old Bridge MUA garage on Route 516 received New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Financing Project of the Week.