SUEZ North America, a private water utility company, and KKR, an equity firm, would have operated the facilities under the name Edison Environmental Partners, and leased the equipment from the town. Instead, following a landslide "no" on the proposal in a special election, the township will create a water department and beef up its existing sewer department to do maintenance and repair.
The election was the result of a grassroots petition drive and local organizing over most of the past year. While SUEZ and KKR modified their proposals in response to opposition by the community, cutting the length of the contract from 40 to 25 years and offering money to install air conditioning in township schools, Edison residents held their ground. In June, nearly 5,000 petitions were received by the township council asking that an ordinance be introduced to require Edison to permanently own and operate the sewer and water systems that were to be turned over to SUEZ and KKR. In response, SUEZ and KKR sent out investigators who posed as representatives of the "Edison Utility Improvement Program," showing up at the homes of petition signers, reportedly inquiring about whether they signed the petition and why.
Water privatization, whether of resources or infrastructure, is not the answer. Edison needed only to look to Hoboken to see a pattern of indifference from water profiteers to real concerns about service and safety of the public water supply.
The Alliance for Democracy worked with residents in Lawrence MA, many years ago to prevent the private takeover of their municipally-managed sanitation system, and from our support of local rights-of-nature ordinances to local control of producer to consumer food sales, we are big fans of keeping vital systems under the public's oversight. We hope that Edison residents remain involved in setting up the new water department and that this example of democratically-determined municipal control of water is an inspiration to other communities looking to take back control of their water and sanitation systems.