New Jersey

Hoboken Mayor Taking Names Over Water Emergency, Intends to Sue for ‘Negligence'

A boil water advisory was in effect after the week-long debacle

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The city of Hoboken intends to sue utility PSE&G and a contractor over a crippling water main break that wrecked service for virtually the entire week, forcing a hospital evacuation and causing "substantial hardship" to the community.

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla thanked residents for their patience in a Friday email update and said the city sent PSE&G notice it intends to collect damages incurred as a result of the utility's alleged "apparent negligence" in conducting underground construction work.

Bhalla said Hoboken's legal department has instructed the utility to preserve all documents and evidence related to its construction work. He also said PSE&G's construction on gas line upgrades has been suspended until the city's engineers have reviewed the plans and deemed them appropriate, and additional safeguards have been implemented.

"To say the past week has been challenging for our community is a vast understatement," Bhalla's email read. "I remain extremely disappointed that we were in this situation to begin with, due to circumstances outside of our control, that caused substantial hardship to our city. We intend to hold PSE&G fully accountable for their actions."

The trouble started around noon Monday, when a PSE&G contractor accidentally struck the water main while working on an unrelated gas line project.

Veolia, the company that provides Hoboken's water, said the force of the rupture penetrated two mains or interconnection of mains. Water was mainly restored overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, and Veolia said the water was safe to drink -- but then the state environmental department issued a boil water advisory anyway.

That too was problematic, Bhalla said.

"My administration is also working to gather all of the relevant facts and information regarding Veolia, as we intend to simultaneously hold them accountable for their very clear failure to call for a timely boil water advisory, that also had a detrimental effect on our residents," Bhalla's email read. "This major shortcoming should not be conflated with the tireless work of Veolia’s on-the-ground crews, who did an admirable job working around the clock to isolate the broken water main, as quickly as possible."

"As we move forward, we will continue to work diligently to review any and all protocols with our utility companies, to help mitigate the chances of unnecessary infrastructure failures, due to human error, from happening again," he continued.

In a statement provided to NBC New York, PSE&G said that they "recognize the substantial hardship that was created for Hoboken residents." The utility went on to say that the water main — which was unmarked — was broken by a contractor, J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc., and that "when construction work is done, mark-outs are performed to identify all underground facilities." PSE&G said it would continue to communicate with the city as the investigation continues.

Veolia could immediately be reached for updated comment Friday afternoon.

Water is back on in Hoboken after a water main break left 58,000 Hoboken residents dry. Pat Battle reports.
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