The following letter to Gov. Chris Christie, written by former Holmdel Mayor Ernest Cote, now a resident of Asbury Park, was distributed to the media on June 15. Cote was mayor in 1992 at a time when the Township Committee allowed limited sewering of the AT&T Bell Labs site, now known as the Alcatel-Lucent property.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is, inexplicably, considering adding the entirety (470+ acres) of the former Holmdel AT&T Bell Labs site to the sewer service area of the Bayshore Regional Sewage Authority (BRSA). In support of this irrational proposition, and in a selfish attempt to balloon the value of its land, Alcatel-Lucent (the French company that now owns the property) is shamefully attempting to rewrite history.
At NJDEP’s June 6 public hearing on the question, an Alcatel-Lucent employee offered a wholly fabricated version of how and why the limited sewer service presently at the site came to be. He claimed that not allowing expanded service would violate the alleged terms of a nonexistent, 1992 agreement with the Township.
He mischaracterized the Labs’ construction costs and payment of hookup fees as “subsidies,” and further misled the NJDEP by inferring that it was the Labs’ sewer project that allowed state, municipal and Board of Education buildings between the Parkway and Crawford’s Corner Road to also be sewered. Such could not be further from the truth.
Here are the inconvenient facts omitted from Alcatel-Lucent’s testimony:
1) In 1992, Bell Labs operated two on-site sewage treatment plants on Crawford’s Corner Road. One treated standard waste from its iconic office building and the other treated effluent from a separate, chemical laboratory. The effluent from the latter included dangerous quantities of heavy metals and other, highly toxic materials. Treated effluent was discharged into Ramanessin Brook at a point less than one mile from the Swimming River Reservoir. The treatment plant for the chemical laboratory was near the end of its useful life.
2) Bell Labs asked the Township for permission to hook the chemical lab into the municipal Sewer Utility, thereby saving it the considerable expense of replacing its obsolete treatment plant. The company was aware of Holmdel’s decades-long and well-founded policy of not sewering the environmentally critical south slope of the Township. Therefore, Bell Labs was emphatic that it was asking for only a “sole source” line … that “sole source” being the chemical laboratory.
3) Holmdel Township was extremely reluctant to allow the requested sewer line. However, it was also acutely aware of the treatment plant’s close proximity to the reservoir, from which several hundred thousand residents of Monmouth County draw their drinking water. And, being only six years or so removed from the meltdown at Chernobyl, Holmdel was well aware that no technology, regardless of how “state of the art” it might be, is completely reliable. The Township decided to do the right thing and allow the toxic materials from Bell Labs to be conveyed away from the reservoir and into the larger, more sophisticated treatment facility at BRSA.
4) As a matter of simple practicality, Holmdel also allowed the effluent from the 2 million square-foot office building to be added to the chemical laboratory’s waste stream and eliminated from discharge into the reservoir. Holmdel made clear that, in doing so, it intended for only the office building … AND NOT THE ENTIRE PROPERTY … to be hooked into the sewer utility.
5) Bell Labs paid a sewer hook-up fee on the same basis as every other sewer utility customer has had to pay. The fee, far from being a “subsidy,” is the means by which new customers pay for their proportionate share of the embedded cost of the utility’s infrastructure.
6) Neither did Bell Labs provide for, or in any way subsidize, the sewering of Holmdel Town Hall, Holmdel High School, the (then) Garden State Arts Center, the Parkway State Police barracks or any other public building. Every one of those buildings was on utility sewer service long before Bell Labs made its request to be included.
AT&T Bell Laboratories was a consistently good corporate neighbor to Holmdel and to Monmouth County. However, it did not practice fiscal irrationality. It regarded the several million dollars that it disbursed for the limited sewering of its Crawford’s Corner property as money well spent, in that it took the company out from under the substantial costs of replacing, maintaining and operating two large sewage treatment plants. It also relieved the company of the incalculable liability it would have borne had heavy metals or other toxins made their way from its chemical lab into the Swimming River Reservoir. In 1992, AT&T Bell Labs served primarily its own interests, not those of the Township, in requesting and installing its sole source sewer line.
Now, in place of a good corporate neighbor, Holmdel and Monmouth County face a mendacious, greed-driven, foreign-owned corporate thug. Alcatel-Lucent has arrogantly betrayed the good intentions of the good people of Holmdel Township. At this point, only the NJDEP can prevent the rampant over-development of the watershed of the Swimming River Reservoir (and its underlying aquifer) that would surely result from sewering the entire Bell Labs property.
Governor Christie, will you and the officials of your DEP stand with the people of Holmdel Township and of Monmouth County … the people whose interests you are paid to protect? Or will you abide and abet Alcatel-Lucent’s abject betrayal? Please instruct your DEP to keep Holmdel Township’s south slope out of the BRSA service area.
With sincere concern,
cc: Holmdel Patch
Asbury Park Press
Two River Times
Newark Star Ledger