Joseph F. Berenato
At town’s first PWTC meeting of the new year
HAMMONTON—During the January 19 meeting of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, Public Works Manager Robert Vettese said that there were five homeowners who took advantage of the town’s assistance in testing their private wells in the Lakeview Gardens section of Hammonton.
Two of those wells, Vettese said, had results that exceeded the acceptable amount of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
One of the homes has a water main running in front of the house, Vettese said, noting that he discussed the situation with the section chief from the New Jersey Spill Compensation Fund.
“We can extend the water service lateral to the curb stop. They will not reimburse the town for that installation, and they will not reimburse the town for whatever the restoration would be.
What they will fund is a plumber to extend the line from that curb stop to the point inside the house, and sealing the well—but the homeowner is going to have to apply through Spill Fund,” Vettese said.
Councilman Steven Furgione said that they would discuss how many homes are in the area, how many homes were tested and how many homes exceeded the limit at the January 23 meeting of town council.
“Anyone who exceeded, we need to help them get the POET [point of entry treatment] system, or—if they have the availability to tie into water—tie into water. The number to do all of that is like $1.6 million—and then you have to get all the homeowners to buy into it,” Furgione said.
Vettese commented further.
“If their well tested fine, they don’t have to buy into it,” Vettese said.
Councilman Edward Wuillermin asked how Furgione arrived at that monetary figure, and Vettese answered.
“I gave him the cost … With all the streets in the Lakeview Gardens area, figuring an eight-inch main to service those, however many hydrants and valves, and road restoration,” Vettese said.
Furgione reiterated that those whose wells have acceptable levels can opt out of tying into the town water, and Vettese agreed.
“What if we put a water main there, and maybe nobody ties in?” he said.
Mayor Stephen DiDonato commented on the matter.
“Do we have a choice when we know there’s contaminated wells in the area, and it’s only a matter of time until the rest of them get hits?” DiDonato said.
Wuillermin noted that some wells tested positive for PFAS but were not yet at levels that exceeded acceptability.
“What’s true today with respect to needing a POET system may change quickly down the line,” Wuillermin said.
“If you have 50 wells in that area and you have six that are contaminated today, in the next 36 months you’re going to have 44 more. Every one will be contaminated. I don’t think we want to get behind this. I don’t think we want to put a price on life and death—do we?” DiDonato said.
Furgione repeated that residents whose wells do not exceed the limits do not have to connect to town water, and DiDonato commented further.
“I understand that, but when they do hit the limit we’ll be there, and they’ll hook up, and then it’ll be seamless and quick—because they will hit the limit. You and I both know that they will hit the limit,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato said that it was the responsibility of the town to govern for safety and to “look out for the residents.”
“Our job is not to govern because we have some people who are ignorant and not thinking, or worried about dollars and cents—and not worried about life and death. There have been people who have died on those streets,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato said that he felt that $1.6 million was “a cheap insurance policy.”
“If I had a friend or a relative in that neighborhood, I’d want to know the town was doing something,” DiDonato said.
“But what if they don’t hook up?” Furgione said.
“I don’t care. They will hook up at some point, and when they do, we’re there. I’d like to get them all in a room and tell them: ‘Listen, if you want to play Russian roulette, remember you’re doing it on your own body,’” DiDonato said.
Furgione said that he was amenable to such a gathering, but did not think it was advisable to run the main at this time.
“You’ve got to deal with the residents who are definitely over the limit. They have to get the POET systems and get this thing done,” Furgione said.
DiDonato agreed with the latter point.
“I just want to make my opinion known that if these people want to be ignorant and roll the dice with fates, they know they’re rolling it with their families because of the almighty dollar,” DiDonato said.
Furgione asked Vettese how many of the homes have been tested to date. Vettese replied that approximately 16 have done so, and Furgione continued.
“If you want to make the argument, and bring them all in a room and say, ‘There’s 54 homes, and 16 of you were smart enough to get tested—including help from the town,’ if we can get the others to test, at least we can make an intelligent decision here by the committee. But, we can’t make an intelligent decision until we get the rest of these people tested,” Furgione said.
Furgione noted that, because they are private wells, the town had no recourse to require testing. DiDonato suggested an incentive.
“One time, you pick up the tab for all of them. That’s what I said before, and I’ll say it again. That’s what I believe. You have to help them help themselves; unfortunately, that’s the way life is. Not everyone is thinking properly, and you have to make them understand that, going forward, you should test your well—even if you pass today—you should test it yearly,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato said that the annual cost for well testing is approximately $800.
“Why aren’t you hooking up to water? What are you rolling the dice for? What are you saving?” DiDonato said.
DiDonato noted that, of the 16 homes that have tested their wells, six exceeded the limit.
“That’s 37 percent. So, then, we have 20 wells out there that are dirty, out of 50. We’ve got 20 houses that are drinking contaminated water today. We have to help them help themselves. That’s our job,” DiDonato said.
Also during the meeting, Furgione said that letters would be sent from the town during the week of January 23 regarding lead and galvanized water service lines.
“In order to do this and get this done in a normal timeframe, everything has to be put on the GIS [geographic information system], and we’re not going to go door-to-door checking people’s pipes. We have a good chunk of them that we know are already OK, which are on the GIS. Now, we’re trying to whittle it down to houses that may be an issue because of their age or may be an issue because we haven’t touched their road,” Furgione said.
Furgione said that he was working on a proposal for Adams, Rehmann and Heggan Associates (ARH) to be presented at the January 23 meeting of town council.
Vettese reiterated that the letters would be sent to everyone in Hammonton.
“Any businesses or any residents, whoever pays the bill—because there might be some renters—they get the letter,” Vettese said.
Town engineer Mark Herrmann spoke about the proposed water and sewer work on Route 54, and said to Vettese that a plan was needed to get the landowners in the area to sign the necessary easements.
“I don’t have the manpower, or honestly, the budget; I didn’t include it when I did it. If we can figure out a way to tag-team this, I’m more than happy to help; I just can’t spearhead it,” Herrmann said.
Councilman Sam Rodio asked if any of the easements were signed yet. Vettese replied that the plans and legal descriptions had been prepared.
“We wanted to send them out to the property owners just to make sure, and include with it the design plans,” Vettese said.
Wuillermin inquired as to how to get the easements signed, and Rodio responded.
“You’ve got to go door-to-door. If you’re going to mail them, you’re getting nothing back. They’re going to go in the trash,” Rodio said.
Vettese responded that he had gone door-to-door.
“I did it on a Saturday. I went knocking on doors. I might do door hangers, too, and try giving them a call,” Vettese said.
Furgione commented further.
“Anyone we can get signed, let’s get it signed. Anyone who needs to get a door hanger, let’s get it—because if we don’t get this project out to bid soon, you’re going to miss this window with the state coming across there, and we’re going to be totally out of whack. We’ve got to roll,” Furgione said.
Regarding the repaving of Vine Street and School House Lane, Herrmann said that the paving has been completed.
“Up next we’ll do punch list stuff, walk the site and so forth,” Herrmann said.
Furgione asked for clarification.
“As far as it goes with the jobs: Valley, done, other than the punch list. Vine, School House, they’re as far as they’re going to go. Punch list as in, the curbs they beat up, gutters, all that sort of stuff. In terms of construction, we’re done?” Furgione said.
Herrmann answered in the affirmative.
During the meeting, DiDonato inquired about the progress regarding the repainting of the water tower on Fourth Street. Furgione replied.
“We’ll have a proposal by the end of the week for the tower. The number they gave us a year ago was around $80,000; that was the design, construction management, the whole deal. The tower was estimated at $1.6 million,” Furgione said.
Furgione said that Verizon was eager to affix their cellular antenna to the tower.
“If we’re going to do this, we’ve got to let them know to either go on a temporary pole or to hold off,” Furgione said.
Before the conclusion of the meeting, Vettese spoke about a traffic study for the area of Vine Street, Central Avenue, Third Street and Bellevue Avenue.
“The county’s getting an estimate from a traffic consultant to do that work, and they’ll have to come back and see what the town’s share might be. I said it shouldn’t be any more than a third, because there’s two county roadways and then a town roadway. We’ll see what that comes back at,” Vettese said.
The Public Works and Transportation Committee regularly meets on the Thursday before town council meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for February 23.