The Early Days

In the early 1900s the Boroughs of Bloomingdale and Butler created what was the forerunner of today’s regionalization and shared service partnerships. Both towns found that the topography – the natural drainage basin of the Pequannock River – was ideally suited to joint sewer service. Butler built and operated a sewerage system to collect flows from both towns for treatment at a plant located in Bloomingdale.  By the 1980’s some 1,500,000 gallons per day (gpd) of treated sewage or wastewater - effluent - was being discharged into the Pequannock River.

The plant and main sewer lines were installed c. 1921/1922 followed by sewer line extensions including some built through the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in the 1930s.  While many of those lines remain in service today, the Authority assumed ownership of the main trunk lines from Bloomingdale and Butler in 1987 and replaced the majority of those lines in the early 1990s.

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PRBRSA Formation

The Authority was formed in 1974 by the Boroughs of Bloomingdale, Butler and Kinnelon. As a new public agency, PRBRSA initially planned to upgrade and expand the existing Bloomingdale/Butler treatment plant yet, years later, selected the optimal solution, abandoning the plant for connection to the Two Bridges system.

Prior to the Authority’s formation, the three Member towns joined with Riverdale and West Milford on the Five-Town Study Committee.  The Committee ultimately recommended combining resources through creation of a regional entity – the PRBRSA - to upgrade and improve the existing Bloomingdale/Butler treatment plant. While Riverdale and West Milford did not opt in to the Authority’s creation, Riverdale joined the Authority as a customer community in 1987.

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The Driving Forces

Multiple forces drove the towns to find a regional solution in the early 1970s. Nationally, a growing awareness of critical environmental issues focused on water quality and led to the creation of a federal grants program for wastewater facilities.  Designed to assist local agencies meet clean water goals through the 1972 Water Pollution Control Act, the 201 Construction Grants Program was administrated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

The main driver was a sewer connection moratorium.  In 1973 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) imposed a sewer connection ban halting all construction within Bloomingdale and Butler pending major and costly improvements to the existing treatment plant, upgrades necessary to achieve higher water quality standards for discharges into the Pequannock River.

Not unlike today, strained local budgets proved inadequate to keep pace with the capital and day-to-day operating expenses necessary to comply with ever more stringent water quality standards mandated by federal and state agencies.  Fiscal realities clashed with higher water quality mandates by USEPA and NJDEP.

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NJDEP Consent Order

There was another factor, following a federally-imposed mandate, NJDEP ordered that the Boroughs of Bloomingdale and Butler achieve secondary treatment standards for the existing plant discharge into the Pequannock River no later than July 1, 1988.  Realizing that any funds applied to upgrade the plant would be lost as sunk costs yet failure to comply would result in burdensome fines and penalties, both towns turned to the Authority to meet the compliance deadline.

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The PRBRSA Mission

Protection of the Pequannock River, a trout production stream and source of potable drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people in the region - the Pequannock River and Passaic River systems are tapped by the City of Newark, the Borough of Butler and further downstream by the Passaic Valley Water Commission and the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission - was then and remains of paramount importance.

Recognizing the criticality of its mission to preserve and protect water quality within the Pequannock River Basin, the Authority initially planned to upgrade and expand the existing treatment plant from 1.5 million gallons per day (mgd) to 2.5 mgd.  Those plans were largely dependent on the availability of federal grants through the 201 Construction Grants Program. At the time, 75% to as much as 85% federal and state grants were available to offset local sewerage facility construction costs. By the early 1980s, with grants no longer available, the treatment plant upgrade project was not economically feasible. The Authority then looked to other options.

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The Two Bridges Option

Among the options was the possibility of connecting to the Two Bridges Sewerage Authority, itself recently formed to serve its Member towns – Fairfield, Lincoln Park and Pequannock Township – through a new 7.5 mgd treatment plant located in Lincoln Park. Because Pequannock Township elected to postpone building a local collection system at that time, there remained excess treatment capacity within TBSA’s facility, capacity which could be made available to the PRBRSA.

Physically, there were advantages and disadvantages to connecting to the Two Bridges System. The primary disadvantage was geography – the closest point of connection to Two Bridges was an existing pipeline some seven miles south of the Bloomingdale/Butler treatment plant so a pipeline would have to be constructed. On the plus side, it was determined that no pumping would be required, a large diameter gravity sewer main - known as an interceptor sewer - could be constructed from the lower end of Bloomingdale to connect the sewage flows collected from the PRBRSA service area from that point to the Two Bridges system for treatment and disposal.

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The Trust Loan Program

Early on the Authority received 201 Program grants for planning and design of improvements to the Bloomingdale/Butler treatment plant.  In the early 1980s when the 201 Construction Grant funds dried up, the Authority was first in line under a new low interest loan program, the New Jersey Wastewater Treatment Trust Program (now, the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust Program).  Low interest loans were not as financially beneficial as the grants program yet assisted the Authority and Two Bridges as well in ultimately financing the cost of the sewer lines interconnecting both systems.

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Partnering With Two Bridges

Once it was determined that a gravity interconnection with TBSA was physically viable, the next question was economic feasibility.  PRBRSA began planning and design of an interconnecting pipeline - the PRBRSA Interceptor - a seven mile line consisting of 24-inch to 42-inch diameter sewer mains beginning at the Bloomingdale/Butler treatment plant site extending generally east and then south through Riverdale, Pequannock Township and ultimately to Lincoln Park to the connection point, an existing Two Bridges line there.

Economic feasibility remained in question while the Authority moved ahead to negotiate business terms with Two Bridges which ultimately involved securing 2.5 mgd of treatment capacity in the TBSA plant (currently, 2.6 mgd) along with 3.75 mgd (currently, 3.92 mgd) of capacity in TBSA’s conveyance system, the interceptor sewer mains. 

Following almost two years of negotiations, both Authorities agreed that the PRBRSA would be responsible to construct the interconnecting pipeline including the portion within Bloomingdale and Riverdale which would remain the responsibility of PRBRSA while the downstream five miles through Pequannock Township and Lincoln Park would be dedicated to Two Bridges.  Payment of the line was split between both agencies with TBSA reimbursing Pequannock River Basin for its share of the lower five miles of line, a total of more than $17 million in principal and interest reimbursement over a 30 year period.

An interesting aspect of the PRBRSA Interceptor construction project was the need to acquire easements including right-of-ways for West Parkway in Pequannock Township.  The Authority, in concert with Pequannock Township, secured right-of-ways for the roadway and the pipeline.  The PRBRSA Interceptor sewer construction in 1986 and 1987 was followed years later by the Township’s completion of the northern portion of West Parkway.

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Mission Accomplished

On December 16, 1987 all flows connected to the Bloomingdale/Butler treatment plant were diverted into the new PRBRSA Interceptor line for conveyance to and treatment at the Two Bridges plant.

At that point the Authority at long last achieved “zero discharge” to the Pequannock River.  That eliminated a point source of pollution satisfying environmental water quality goals while achieving critical economic development needs by lifting of the 1973 sewer moratorium.

The collaboration and partnership between the Pequannock River Basin and the Two Bridges Authority has been mutually beneficial helping both agencies achieve critical environmental water quality goals while providing cost efficient service to their respective municipalities.

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Bloomingdale/Butler Plant Decommissioning

On connection to the Two Bridges system in December 1987, the aging Bloomingdale/Butler treatment plant was abandoned and shortly thereafter demolished and formally decommissioned.  Today the site remains largely vacant although had for years served as the home of the Bloomingdale Animal Shelter.

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Water Quality And Lasting Economic Benefits

Understandably, there was then and remains today opposition to growth and development within the areas tributary to the Pequannock River.  Clearly the lifting of the 1973 sewer moratorium in 1987 allowed growth to continue and the area to prosper, fortunately in an environmentally sound manner.  Fast forward and the area is thriving economically yet at the same time water quality is protected through the Authority’s efforts and now by the Highlands Act as well.  Most of the lands currently unsewered are within the Highlands Preservation Area limiting future growth beyond those areas already served by the Authority’s system.

The PRBRSA system maintains high water quality standards while also enabling sustainable economic growth.

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