Court Orders Appointment of Special Master for EOWC Lawsuit
South Orange lifts their Notice of Emergency Relief against EOWC following the ruling.
South Orange has lifted their Notice of Emergency Relief against the provider of water for the town, East Orange Water Commission (EOWC), following a court order appointing a ‘special master’ in connection with the town’s pending litigation against the company. This is the latest in what has been an ongoing legal battle with the commission since June 2011 when South Orange and Newark filed suit.
On October 14, the licensed operator of record for EOWC, William Mowell, was issued a suspension of six months and fined $17,000 by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for his failure to comply with multiple requests for records. In addition, an inspection showed that wells had been turned on and off for unknown reasons and that the sampling data provided by EOWC has not been accurate of the water flowing. South Orange asked for a special master to be appointed in regard to EOWC’s treatment of South Orange’s water.
Within 30 days of the appointment of a special master, each side is going to be able to file requests for discovery items relating to the case. Within 60 days of the appointment, each side will need to respond to the other’s requests. If either side fails to comply with the special master’s orders, sanctions may be imposed including attorneys’ fees and costs for the prevailing party.
According to the court order, the special master will have the ability to take water samplings from any well in South Orange or East Orange and test them to see if it violates any federal or state laws related to delivered drinking water quality, water testing from source wells and water supply. Within four months of the close of discovery, the special master shall make any finding and recommendations to the court with respect to the following issues:
- Whether the water samples taken by EOWC and reported to NJDEP have been/are representative of the quality of water provided to EOWC’s customers;
- Is EOWC able to consistently deliver water which remains below the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for tetrachloroethylene and other volatile organic compounds (VOC) considered contamination in certain wells and the limitation on the amount of water which EOWC may draw from its wells;
- Whether an engineered solution is required to deliver drinking water to South Orange at or below the MCL for VOC or any other contaminant of concern, and if so, the nature, estimated cost and timeline for installation of said engineered solution;
- If an engineered solution is required to address contamination within wells in the EOWC well fields, what specific remedial action is required;
The order states that the findings of the special master as it relates to these issues will not be the final decision in the case because “the court is and shall remain the final decision-maker in this matter.” The special master will be able to consult with experts if necessary with the affected parties splitting the cost. In addition, the order states that the special master is “entitled to a reasonable compensation for the performance of its duties and responsibilities,” with the court deciding who pays for what.
This matter is expected to be updated frequently at future Board of Trustees meetings.