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Edison referendum keeps local control of water system

Plan for partnership with Suez blocked

By David Wildstein, September 10 2019 9:04 pm

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In a special referendum election today, Edison voters overwhelmingly approved a plan to continue municipal ownership of the township’s drinking water and sewage treatment operations that effectively blocks an $855 million deal to allow Suez North American to run Edison’s water system.

Unofficial results have the referendum passing 8,874 to 1,637, 84%-16%.

The referendum was placed on the ballot by petition as part of a grass-roots effort to block the deal proposed by Mayor Thomas Lankey that has been several years in the making.  Nearly 5,000 residents signed the petition.

Lankey’s plan would have established a partnership with Suez, which would have leased the local water system for 40 years and be responsible for its maintenance and upgrades.  Edison was to receive a $105 million concession fee that would have funded new community recreational facilities.

Suez, formerly United Water, owns sixteen water facilities and runs nearly 100 more through public-private partnerships or through government contracts.

The Edison referendum was the first time New Jersey’s new vote-by-mail law was implemented.

Middlesex County Clerk Elaine Flynn mailed ballots to more than 4,000 Edison voters who have cast VBM ballots in the last three general elections.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the value of the deal.  It was $855 million for 40 years.

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