The Vernon council on Sept. 27 agreed to a contract with Dewberry Engineers to upgrade the township’s water system.
The council had already decided to use its allotment from the American Rescue Plan to upgrade the system. This use is allowed under the plan to attract commercial development and connect more people to water and sewer services.
The Town Center water project is expected to cost about $3 million. The federal plan has awarded the township $2.2 million.
Mayor Howard Burrell said Vernon lacks the water infrastructure needed to fully develop the Town Center. It currently relies on a limited amount of water from the Suez Water company and a host of private wells.
“We will need a better and more extensive water supply capability if we are to achieve our town’s economic development objectives of increasing our commercial tax base, creating jobsm and stimulating our town’s economy,” Burrell said.
The project includes the installation of a 2,200-foot-long water main along County Highway 515, which, according to the chair of the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA), needs to be done by spring, when the county plans to repave the Vernon portion of the road.
Additional distribution mains will be needed north on Route 94, toward the Vernon Inn. Dry water mains are in place on Main Street and on Route 94.
Furrey said the project design can start in November, the bid awarded in January, and the construction completed in May 2022 to accommodate the county’s paving plans.
Construction is expected to take about 90 days.
“Coordinating with the county will save both the county and the township a lot of money,” Furrey said.
County increases Vernon’s obligation
Vernon was originally obligated to send 265,000 gallons of sewage per day to the Sussex County Municipal Authority. In 2013, the allotment was raised to 461,000 gallons. The township’s average flow is still about 210,000 gallons per day.
“But since the minimum was raised to 461,000 gallons a day, essentially we had to pay for 461,000 gallons a day even if we don’t send that down to Sussex County,” Furrey said. “So, essentially, here we are paying to treat air, not water.”
The unused allocations have cost the Vernon MUA $300,000 per year and $2.5 million over the last eight years.
The Vernon MUA is also facing an increase in its annual bond payments to the Sussex County MUA of about $500,000 per year.
“We’re in 2021, and we need to beat the clock,” Furrey said. “If you do the math, we have a year and a half before we have to meet those obligations.”
The burden of the Sussex County MUA debt falls on the system’s ratepayers because it is owned by the Vernon MUA. If Vernon defaults, the township owns the system, with local taxpayers on the hook.
“The township owns it. The taxpayers also own it,” Furrey said. “We’re all in this together to really make this happen.”
“We will need a better and more extensive water supply capability if we are to achieve our town’s economic development objectives of increasing our commercial tax base, creating jobs and stimulating our town’s economy.” Mayor Howard Burrell