The EnCap debacle: To get an idea of the magnitude of the political decay in New Jersey, one must read the links I provide below. It just happens that I played a very minor role, as president of my union, UWUA Local 534, in the EnCap affair: We tried to stop it – and failed for causes beyond our reach.
After becoming a chemist in 1984, I had worked brief stints in Purex Corporation and UMDNJ – in the latter as a temporary research assistant in the Biochemistry Department. I believe it was January 1985 when I took the chemistry civil service examination for a position in a place I had never heard of before: The Bergen County Utilities Authority (BCUA). I passed it and scored high enough in the totem pole that I was hired as a senior laboratory technician – the CS title – on March 25, 1985.
The pay was not very good at the time but the benefits were. It was also considered a secure job. I had been married for 5 years and had a son. Job security was high in my consideration.
The BCUA comprised two divisions at that time: Sewage Treatment Plant (WP) and Solid Waste (SW). I always worked in the laboratory at the first. At some point in the mid/late 1980’s several things happened: Bergen County (BC) went from democratic to republican control and soon the BCUA followed since its commissioners were appointed by the BC Executive; the landfills in the Meadowlands area became full; and a transfer station (SW-TS) was planned and built in North Arlington to ship the Bergen County garbage by rail out of New Jersey.
The TS had tremendous cost overruns in its construction, was filled with political appointees, and the cost of garbage disposal skyrocketed to a point were it triggered a scalding State Commission of Investigations (SCI) report. Below is a portion of it presented in the SCI annual report.
BC Executive Pat Schuber reacted not by moving against the SW-TS part of the BCUA but against the part which was not mentioned in the SCI report at all: The WP division. He called for the privatization of WP sometime in 1993 or early 1994. I had been a union officer, beginning as shop steward for the lab and ending as VP of the local union until I resigned, perhaps in 1992 or early 1993. So when all the privatization thing exploded, I was really out of the loop. But I had developed a following among the membership because I had been an effective and honest union official.
Sometime in this period the EnCap deal began to be cooked up somewhere in New Jersey. Link below has a partial timeline.
The BCUA was $100 million in debt but it was mostly due to the the TS overruns. I ran for and became union president in 1998. We were running out of time in WP. In SW, the spectre of EnCap plan had appeared on the horizon. One of the conditions placed by EnCap was to take over the TS, through a transfer or sale to the Meadowlands Commission (MC) – a State Government political subdivision. The BCUA was anxious to go along because of its debt burden. It would be passing public debt from one agency to another public agency and the same people – the taxpayers – would be paying for the whole thing. The MC was very supportive of the EnCap project.
Thus we, the union, faced a double danger. We named the stopping of privatization at WP operation Jennifer. Salvaging SW was operation Nestor. We gave priority to Jennifer because the danger was closer. But we began to look at Nestor. We knew that the EnCap plan was a red herring. The problem was how to relieve the BCUA of its debt of $100 million by at least making the TS profitable (it always operated below capacity.)
After completing Jennifer successfully in June 2001, we devoted all our energies to Nestor. We conceived a plan of bringing New York City garbage into the TS which would then be moved by rail out of New Jersey. We made contact with the NYC Department of Sanitation (NYCSD) and got 2 BCUA commissioners on board or at the very least very interested. There were only 5 commissioners at the time so 2 was a good number. The main weakness in our plan was how to get NYC garbage to North Arlington. But NYC generated enough garbage to keep the TS in the black forever and the BCUA would be able to lower rates and amortize its debt without having to squeeze the taxpayers for more money. We sep up a meeting with NYCSD in NYC in mid September. The 2 BCUA commissioners were to come along.
Then 9/11/ 2001 happened.
When I tried to reach the NYCSD a few days after the attacks, I could not even get through to anyone. I don’t think they had a phone. It was chaos. The proponents of the EnCap fiasco – who were everybody who was anybody in New Jersey – had warned me, without success, not to try to stop the deal but now they sensed our disarray and moved quickly to cement the sale of the TS to the MC. The BCUA had no plausible choice. The remnants of our workers at the TS were laid off although we were able to absorb some at WP. The magnitude of the 9/11 attacks combined with the failure of Nestor disheartened me deeply.