ORANGE, NJ — The contaminated water supply of the city of Flint, Mich., was on the minds of Orange residents attending the Orange City Council meeting Monday, Feb. 22, to learn more about the pending deal between Mayor Dwayne Warren’s administration and the Pennoni water management company.
According to Warren and Todd Hay, the Pennoni associate vice president and office director, any fears inside Council Chambers were unfounded; both said the city’s water supply is not contaminated or hazardous.
Some council members, such as North Ward Councilwoman Tency Eason and South Ward Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson, said the large turnout at the meeting was due to an unjustified hysteria instilled in Orange Water Department customers by an email Eason said had originated from West Ward Councilman Harold J. Johnson.
But meeting attendees said they took offense to their legitimate concerns being classified as “hysteria” by their elected officials.
“Let me define ‘hysteria,’ I don’t say it out of sarcasm, I say it out of definition,” said Derrick Henry on Monday, Feb. 22. Henry is an Ogden Street resident who is also the president of the Protect the Orange Water Supply group that sprang up recently in response to the news the city was planning to switch water utility management and maintenance providers.
United Water company, formerly known as Suez, has been running the Orange water system since 2003; the Pennoni company, based in Pennsylvania, is poised to take over the contract.
“There is nothing irrational about our concerns about where our water is going. I would like to dismiss the hysteria that everybody is mentioning here. Dismiss that word right now. This is not out of control,” Henry said.
Elizabeth Jackson said she didn’t come out to the council’s meeting because of hysteria. She said she “came out because I wanted to get educated.”
“On Feb. 6, I did write a letter to the council because, on Jan. 19, when it was announced that the city would be getting a new water company and someone from the audience asked why, the answer was they had the lowest bid,” said Jackson on Monday, Feb. 22. “The first thing that crossed my mind when I heard ‘lowest bid’ was the man-made crisis in Flint, Mich.”
Longtime Orange resident Darryl Harrington said the issue at the meeting was, “When questions come up, especially about our water supply, council people, I expect to hear from you.”
Chris Jackson said the real problem with the water utility management switch was “a lack of consideration.” Gloria Stewart took that a step further and said she was insulted by the Warren administration’s attempt to switch water utility management companies without a public hearing to inform residents and ask them for their opinions.
This discussion prompted Summers-Johnson and council President April Gaunt-Butler to move to have the resolution facilitating the deal between the Warren administration and Pennoni tabled until a later date. They said it’s obvious, from the public turnout and the concerns voiced, that there should be more public discussion on the issue before a final vote takes place.
“My concern is with the citizens,” said Gaunt-Butler on Monday, Feb. 22. “Something of this magnitude — we should have done some public hearings.”
A public meeting has been scheduled for Monday, March 14, at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.