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Special Master Assigned to Caldwell Sewer Utility Confirms Capacity Availability

TAPinto logo TAPinto 1/31/2023

CALDWELL, NJ -- The highly anticipated report from the special master assigned to all litigation regarding the Caldwell Wastewater Treat Plant (WWTP) that was released Jan. 16 confirmed that available capacity can provide wastewater treatment to all parties requesting it.

The report was prepared by James F. Cosgrove, Jr., P.E., principal of One Water Consulting LLC, who was appointed by Justice Robert H. Gardner of the New Jersey Superior Court in June to assist the court-appointed special master Frank Banish. 

The special master was appointed by the court to assist on all matters related to available capacity at the treatment plant.

The Caldwell Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) is owned and operated by the borough of Caldwell, and has been in litigation with West Caldwell, Roseland, multiple developers and the Fair Share Housing Authority. Actionable items include billing practices, credit due, contracts, capacity of the plant and the ramifications of lack of capacity. Gardner consolidated the multiple lawsuits.

Cosgrove focused on three areas. The first was to quantify the total amount of wastewater flow capacity being requested by each municipality and/or developer; confirm the existing WWTP capacity and calculate the available flow capacity under currently permitted flow conditions and a true WWTP process capacity evaluation and to determine the “extent of the improvements, if any, at the Caldwell WWTP that would be required to accommodate flow above its current annual average permitted design capacity.”

According to the report, there is capacity to accommodate the current demand and all proposed needs, including projects that mandate COAH housing and those projects that do not. Cosgrove’s report confirmed that while the plant is rated to accept 4.5 million gallons daily (MGD); monitoring conducted from Dec. 1, 2021, through Nov. 30, 2022 confirmed the actual average flow was 4.06 MGD, leaving an existing available capacity of 440,000 gallons per day.

The 47 requested projects in all user communities would add another 432,433 gallons per day, still leaving 7,567 gallons of capacity per day available at the current threshold of 4.5 MGD.  Cosgrove’s report confirms: “This available capacity is sufficient to provide wastewater treatment to all the requesting parties.”

Considering the prospect of re-rating the plant to allow for greater capacity to be processed, the analysis addressed periods of intense rain: “Please note that weather conditions can greatly impact the flow that must be treated at the WWTP. In fact, during extended periods of wet weather in the past, the annual average flow at this treatment plant exceeded its 4.5 MGD rating. However, even during those times, the WWTP performed extremely well, suggesting that it is possible the facility could be rated for a higher flow with no minor plant improvements…” 

Recommendations regarding re-rating the plant included the following: “In order to avoid a permitted capacity issue in the future (if long-term precipitation increases), we recommend a re-rating of the WWTP capacity be processed with NJDEP to an annual average flow of 5.79 MGD.”

During the period of time that the special master was collecting the data the court imposed a moratorium on any new hook-ups to the WWTP unless approved by the special master.  Many projects that had been approved were in limbo awaiting approval and direction from the court in order to proceed. Most recently during a West Caldwell council meeting it was reported that the owners of the long anticipated new ShopRite that will be built on Bloomfield Avenue, were prepared to spend over $1 million in additional costs in order to run pipes to hook into the Two Bridges water treatment facility in Lincoln Park.

The biggest item that has been at the forefront of the user communities concerns is the long- and short-term budgetary impact and the costs for a proposed expansion of the over 100-year-old plant to accommodate current and future needs inclusive of mandated affordable housing requirements in all communities. User communities include West Caldwell, Roseland, Essex Fells, Fairfield and North Caldwell in addition to Caldwell.

Caldwell for decades has utilized the services of Mott MacDonald,  as the operator of the WWTP.  In December 2021, John Scheri of Mott MacDonald went before the Caldwell council and proposed three options for their consideration to address the capacity issue at the WWTP. 

One proposal’s estimated cost for expansion as presented by Scheri, known as “Alternative 1” was $31,464,000; “Alternative 2” was earmarked to cost $30,912,000 and the third option was a process known as Oxidation Ditch Demonstration Testing. The cost would be “a couple of hundred thousand dollars” according to Scheri.

Scheri’s recommendations included:

Confirm capacity needs with participating municipalities;

Consider capacity increase to 6.75 MGD;

Consider full scale Demonstration Trial for potential construction savings;

Evaluate financing and implementation schedules;

Initiate applications for NJEP approvals (long lead times).   

West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta issued the following statement to TAPinto West Essex:

“I find it incredibly revealing the master assigned by the Judge who is an engineer was able to analyze and find in several months sufficient sewer capacity at the Caldwell Wastewater Treatment Plant. Not only did he find ample capacity to satisfy every development project currently in the pipeline from all user communities, but he further concluded  with a re-rating of the existing plant it may be possible to add an additional 1-1.5 million gallons of capacity and not require a plant expansion for the foreseeable future. This begs the question- did the previous Caldwell administration and their so-called experts at  Mott McDonald know about this but did absolutely nothing about it for the past four years or simply could not find the same capacity because they were incapable?

Either way it borders on incompetence and/or arrogance and demonstrates the dereliction of their fiduciary responsibility. It reminds me of the three to four times former Mayor Kelley and Council President Gates insisted West Caldwell sign a contract without some of these questions being answered. Also, incredulous was the previous administration’s refusal to provide the data in the February of 2020 sewer user meeting (the last one by the way) requested by West Caldwell’s engineering firm Maser Consulting in order to do their own analysis because, as they suspected then, the Plant may have had capacity.

Yet the Borough of Caldwell and Mott McDonald refused to supply the data, which is one of the myriad of reasons we entered into litigation with them. West Caldwell and Maser consulting asked respectfully for Caldwell to not jump to conclusions to immediately require a plant expansion which the Borough of Caldwell told all user communities this expansion could cost as much as 40-50 million dollars.

These findings of the master only further proves the incompetent, scurrilous attitude of the previous administration and their so-called experts. It is simply unconscionable.

Unfortunately, this may be just the beginning of several findings of what the Caldwell residents will find out about and took place over the last four years. So much for transparency. Perhaps it is the tip of the iceberg. It would not surprise me if Caldwell residents faced another massive tax increase (8% last year) once the analysis is done of the previous administrations unwieldly borrowing practices, questionable budget and revenue projections and hiring of professionals to develop several different plans only to be scrapped over the last four years. Remember the parking deck behind the theatre, the new parking deck where the old one was torn down, the on again off again location of the new municipal building adjacent to community center, or the new municipal building at the post office, the one lane on Bloomfield Avenue etc.

As I have stated in the past, reasonable people come to reasonable conclusions. Fair and equitable is all we ask for as neighbors.  West Caldwell looks forward to working with the new administration and is confident better times are ahead for our two communities.”

Mayor James R. Spango of Roseland, in an interview with TAPinto West Essex, stated in response to the report: “The Borough of Roseland is encouraged by the release of the report.  We are disappointed that Roseland, like other municipalities, had to expend taxpayer dollars on legal fees to prove this.  It is also unfortunate that taxpayer dollars had to be spent to fight off Caldwell's prior part-time business administrator’s attempt to balance their poor budgetary practices on the backs of Roseland taxpayers.  The legal fees that unnecessarily had to be expended should be recouped by Roseland from Caldwell without having it spend additional taxpayer dollars on legal fees.”

Caldwell Mayor Garrett Jones provided the following statement: “We are still waiting to hear from our experts regarding this report from One Water Consulting. Unfortunately it would be premature to comment before we have all the information and all the professionals give their opinions.  We will, however, give a full report and opinion as soon as we have investigated all the information required by the appropriate agencies.  We are hoping to have this completed as quickly as possible and have a response in a timely manner for our citizens and neighboring towns.”


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