Posts Tagged ‘Ocean Grove Sewerage Authority’

By Charles Layton

We reported a few days ago that the Ocean Grove Sewerage Authority has lost a major lawsuit, involving a great deal of money. That money rightly belonged to the people of Ocean Grove.

More needs to be said about this travesty of justice.

The OGSA had sought the return of well over $300,000 in overpayments it had made to the owner of the regional treatment plant that processes Ocean Grove’s sewerage. It did not lose the lawsuit on the merits of its case. The overpayments were real. Ocean Grove lost on a legal technicality – the fact that the OGSA had failed to file written notice within the deadline prescribed under its contract.

The OGSA slipped up in that regard. And it may be that, within the narrow legal limits of the contract dispute, the arbitration judge who ruled in this case had little choice but to decide against Ocean Grove.

That doesn’t make it right. What’s legal is not always the same as what’s honorable and just.

Let us explain:

The OGSA (and its customers, the people of Ocean Grove) were overcharged approximately a third of a million dollars over a two-and-a-half-year period ending in April of 2006.

The outfit that erroneously received that money from us and then obstinately refused to give it back is the Township of Neptune Sewerage Authority (TNSA).

The TNSA, despite its name, is not a part of Neptune Township but rather an independent public body. The OGSA is also an independent public body. The officers of both these bodies are appointed by the Neptune Township Committee.

The TNSA operates a sewerage treatment plant that accepts the waste water from Ocean Grove, Tinton Falls, the western portion of Neptune Township, Wall, Avon, Bradley Beach and Neptune City. By contract, each of these towns pays the TNSA based on the amount of its sewerage input. This input is measured by flow meters in each town.

According to the court record, the TNSA is required by its own rules and regulations to calibrate those flow meters on a quarterly basis, so the measurements will be accurate.

Also according to testimony in the court record, the TNSA failed in this responsibility; it never performed calibrations on the equipment of any of its municipalities.

In November of 2003, a new flow meter was installed at the Pennsylvania Avenue station in Ocean Grove. At some point thereafter, Ocean Grove officials began to suspect that the measurements taken by this new meter were in error. According to the record, they made an informal verbal request that the TNSA calibrate the meter. The TNSA denied that calibrating the meter was its responsibility. The argument went on, unresolved.

In April of 2006, the OGSA and its chairman, Francis Paladino, took it upon themselves to have the meter calibrated at the OGSA’s expense. According to the OGSA’s complaint, filed in Superior Court in September of 2007, that calibration showed that the meter had been overmeasuring Ocean Grove’s flow by approximately 35 percent. OGSA pointed this out to TNSA – not formally in writing, but orally — and asked for reimbursement of the overpayment.

You might think the TNSA would have just acknowledged reality at that point and refunded the overpayments. That’s what your local hardware store would do if you inadvertently overpaid for a can of paint.

But no. The TNSA has insisted that OGSA was entitled to no refund because, under the rules in its contract, the OGSA should have given written notice of the overmeasure within seven days, and had not done so.

The OGSA filed suit. In its answer to the OGSA’s complaint, the TNSA claimed that the OGSA’s losses were entirely its own fault.

After waiting for several years to receive a court date for a jury trial, the OGSA and the TNSA agreed to submit the dispute to binding arbitration. Week before last, the arbitrator, retired Judge Bette Uhrmacher, ruled against OGSA, citing its failure to meet that seven-day deadline.

This is blatantly wrong. The people who run the TNSA should have seen the simple justice of Ocean Grove’s position from the start, as soon as the overpayment errors became known.

Who, you might ask, are these people who run the TNSA? They are prominent players in the local Democratic Party, appointed to the TNSA by the Township Committee. The TNSA’s chairman is a former Neptune mayor, and its secretary is the municipal Democratic Party chairman. Here is the full list of officers:

Chairman: James W. Manning Jr.

Vice Chairman: Harry Devine

Treasurer: James Williams

Secretary: James Mowczan

Assistant secretary: Linda Johnson

NOTE: James Manning informs us that he recused himself from participating in the OGSA-TNSA dispute from its inception until the present day. He told Blogfinger in an email that he had been appointed to the TNSA while still serving on the Township Committee. “The TNSA attorney felt it would be a conflict to be involved in discussions with the lawsuit since I was serving on BOTH public bodies, so based on that advice I recused myself from discussions about the lawsuit,” he said.


To visit the TNSA’s website, go here..

To read our news stories about the judgment in the lawsuit, go here and here.

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By Charles Layton

The key determining factor in the Ocean Grove Sewerage Authority’s recent loss of a major lawsuit was its failure to file timely written notice that it was being overcharged for processing fees.

So said Francis Paladino, the OGSA’s chairman, in response to questions raised at Saturday’s meeting of the Home Owners Association.

A binding arbitration judge dismissed OGSA’s claim that it had been overcharged more than $300,000 by the Township of Neptune Sewerage Authority, which runs the treatment facility that handles Ocean Grove’s waste water. The overcharges took place over a two-and-a-half-year period ending in April 2006. (Click here to read our previous story.)

“We erred in that we did not notify them in writing” within the required seven days after discovering the overcharges, Paladino said.

“The arbitrator didn’t say the merits of our case were wrong but that we didn’t follow the rule about notification.”

Both parties to the dispute had agreed to submit the case to binding arbitration late last year rather than go to trial. The OGSA had been waiting for a court date since 2007, when the suit was filed, and Paladino said it seemed likely that the wait would continue for a considerable time.

He said the bad news was that Ocean Grove will not recover any of the money it overpaid, because binding arbitration decisions cannot be appealed. However, he said, the good news is that after the OGSA discovered the overcharges in 2006, those overcharges ceased.

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Down the drain

Money down the drain

By Charles Layton

The Ocean Grove Sewerage Authority has lost a major lawsuit.

A binding arbitration judge has dismissed the OGSA’s claim that it was owed in excess of $300,000 in overcharges for waste water treatment. Had the OGSA won its case and received the full extent of its claim, Ocean Grovers might have enjoyed a decrease in sewerage bills, or at least been spared some increase.

Instead, the arbitration judge ruled that the OGSA is entitled to no compensation.

The lawsuit was between the OGSA and the Township of Neptune Sewerage Authority.

The TNSA, despite its name, is not a part of Neptune Township government. It is an independent public body that operates a regional treatment facility and accepts waste water from Ocean Grove and several other communities — Avon, Wall, Bradley Beach, Neptune City, Tinton Falls, and the western portion of Neptune Township. By contract, the TNSA charges these communities for treatment costs based on the volume of their wastes.

The OGSA sued the TNSA in 2007, claiming that from November 2003 through April 2006 the flow meter that measures Ocean Grove’s waste water was not properly calibrated. It was overmeasuring the amount of flow from Ocean Grove to the TNSA’s treatment facility. Consequently, Ocean Grove was being overcharged.

According to testimony, the OGSA had suspected as early as 2004 that the meter was inaccurate. Although the OGSA made an informal verbal complaint to the TNSA at that time, it waited two years before putting its complaint in writing.

In 2006 the OGSA had the meter calibrated. Based on that calibration, OGSA said it was able to establish that the flow numbers had been approximately 35 percent too high.

A complicated dispute ensued. The TNSA noted in testimony that it didn’t own the faulty flow meter, the OGSA did. It also noted that, according to its contract with the OGSA, if a customer disputes the monthly flow values it must inform the TNSA “within seven business days, following the disagreement, along with documentation supporting the customer’s contention.” Otherwise, the customer forfeits its right to dispute the monthly flow volumes.

The TNSA argued that any damages the OGSA may have suffered were due to its own negligence.

The OGSA admitted that it had failed to give the required written notice within the deadline. It did argue, however, that the TNSA had been made aware of likely inaccuracies and had wrongly chosen to ignore the problem.

OGSA also argued that, under the TNSA’s own rules, its contractor is supposed to make quarterly adjustments and calibrations to the metering equipment. Ernst Cole, the TNSA’s executive director at the time, admitted at a deposition that calibration was the TNSA’s responsibility. Other testimony revealed that calibrations had not been performed on the equipment of Ocean Grove or of TNSA’s other member municipalities. OGSA pointed out that TNSA, in this regard, had not been following its own rules. However, according to the record, the rules also state that the customers, not TNSA, “are responsible for repairs and/or replacements … to insure the accuracy of flow metering at the customer-owned metering stations.”

This raised the vexing question of how the OGSA is supposed to repair and correct problems with the flow meter unless the TNSA fulfills its duty to inspect the meter and inform the OGSA of those problems.

Because of the potential great expense of a jury trial, both sides agreed last year to submit the case to binding arbitration. A hearing was held and testimony was taken.

The arbitrator, retired Judge Bette Uhrmacher, ruled last week that OGSA has no valid claim for compensation.

In binding arbitration cases, there is no right of appeal.

The attorney of record for the TNSA, Charles Shaw, told Blogfinger, “As far as we’re concerned the case is done.”

Francis Paladino, chairman of the OGSA, agreed that the decision is final. He said he had only heard about the ruling on Friday, and, because he had not yet seen the judge’s written decision, he preferred not to comment on it.

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By Mary Walton

Since early January the Ocean Grove Sewerage Authority has used an area bordering the east end of Fletcher Lake to deposit debris from its sewer replacement project along Abbott Avenue.

Concerned residents watched as giant sewer pipes, smaller ones of PVC, chunks of asphalt, clumps of cement, a discarded cement culvert, pallets, plastic wrap and mounds of earth spread along the lake front. There were no trash cans, and litter left by workers added to the mess.

Several residents raised their objections at the recent meeting of the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association, and 10 turned up at a meeting of the Fletcher Lake Commission on Wednesday. Commission chairman Charles Quixley agreed to write a letter reiterating their concerns to both the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which owns the property, and to Neptune Mayor Randy Bishop. Meanwhile, Jeannine Rudolph, who lives nearby on Central Avenue, requested the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to investigate “possible illegal dumping.”

As the protests mounted, the pile shrank temporarily and residents cheered. But then it grew bigger. Finally, late Friday, workers began removing much of the remaining debris. And assurances came from multiple sources that the site would be cleared by Monday, when the Sewerage Authority expects to finish its project.

Rudolph said she received a call Friday from a DEP investigator, who told her the debris was too minor to warrant an investigation but that a Township engineer had told DEP it would be gone by Monday. “They are cleaning it up,” Rudolph said. “That’s the important part.” In a telephone conversation with Blogfinger, a DEP spokesman said there was “no violation.”

On the scene of the clean-up, Tom O’Neill, an inspector for Leon S. Avakian Consulting Engineers, the firm that is overseeing the project, added his pledge that everything would be gone by Monday.

As a team of workers shoveled a shrinking mound of dirt into a neat pile, Broadway residents Connie Ogden and Carol Woidt, who had lobbied for action, emphasized that they had acted out of concern for the environment. “We don’t object to the staging part — the pipes and equipment,” Woidt said, “but we do object to dumping.”

“We were very concerned because we didn’t know what was in it,” Ogden said of the debris, “and it was directly on the ground and very close to the lake.” With a Broadway drainage project set to begin shortly, she added, “We’d like this to be a precedent for not dumping unknown debris and dirt on the ground close to the lake. It’s purely an environmental concern.”

Here's how the site looked on Thursday

On Friday workers were cleaning it up. Photos by Mary Walton

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