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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Suez defends millions of dollars in charges to N.J. towns for 'public fire protection'

WATER WORKS: Suez North America headquarters are on From Road in Paramus, above and below.
GOING TO THE SOURCE: I had been trying to get Suez North America to comment after Hackensack officials complained in June about their bill of more than $343,000 for "fire protection." So, I went to Suez headquarters without an appointment, cooled my heels in the waiting room and finally was given the cellphone number of the company spokeswoman, who said she was on the road. On Friday, she emailed me what I needed.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- When a vehicle struck a fire hydrant and ruptured a water main in Fort Lee, the water company immediately dispatched a repair crew.

"The cost was substantial, but the safety of that block depended on a working hydrant," Debra Vial, spokeswoman for Suez North America, said on Friday. "We are always on call."

The cost of the repairs were $38,741.27, she said, defending the charges to Hackensack and other towns for "public fire protection."

"We work every day ensure that the 16,226 hydrants in our system and all of the infrastructure to support them are always ready whenever and wherever a fire erupts," Vial said.

"This is critical to keeping our communities safe. As part of our commitment to the communities we serve, rates for hydrants are lower now than they were in 2010."

Hackensack's bill

As I reported on June 11, Suez's charges for "public fire protection" are $195.12 for each of Hackensack's 531 hydrants or $103,608.72; and $0.04 "per inch-foot of main" or $240,180.98.

The total bill for Hackenack in 2019 is $343,789.70.

Testing of hydrants

Specifically, Hackensack officials are upset about the $103,608.72 in charges for hydrants.

Fire Chief Thomas J. Freeman was turned down when he asked Suez about potential savings, in view of his department checking and servicing hydrants for roughly 10 years.

"The charge represents far more than the maintenance and testing of hydrants," Vial said.

"It includes the cost of providing the overall operation, maintenance and infrastructure necessary to ensure a robust system capable of providing the adequate pressure and capacity needed to fight fires.

"For example, we must build and maintain enough storage to handle the additional volume and pumps to deliver at a higher capacity that what is needed for domestic services only."

Other towns

Teaneck presumably pays more to Suez, as do Paramus and Englewood, all of which are larger than Hackensack and have more hydrants.

Ridgewood, Paterson, Clifton and Passaic all own their own water systems, and do not pay Suez for fire protection.

Vial, the Suez spokeswoman, said if I wanted a list of New Jersey towns and what they pay Suez, I should ask the state Board of Public Utilities, which sets the fire-protection rates.

SUEZ CANAL: In the waiting room, below, you can watch a video on the origins of the one of the world's biggest suppliers of clean water and waste-recycling services.
BASED IN FRANCE: Suez says the company provides water and waste-recycling services to more than 7.5 million people in the United States and Canada.
SUEZ ADVISORY: A sign in the company's 4th-floor men's room asks you to "please be considerate of the next person and clean up after yourself." Given the large number of slobs, litterers and smokers who toss butts out of car windows, I'd love to see signs like that all over northern New Jersey.

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