Fire at MUA facility is latest in utility's woes

| 16 Feb 2012 | 08:52

    WEST MILFORD - A fire Sunday morning caused "significant damage" to the shed-like building that houses the Municipal Utilities Authority's Birch Hill plant.

    According to Fire Inspector Ron Svrchek, the call came in at 11:40 Sunday morning, Feb. 12. The Birch Hill plant is located behind the Journey Church on Marshall Hill Road. He said the building, which is 12 feet by 15 feet in size, "sustained significant damage." The fire "doesn't look suspicious," he added.

    According to MUA Administrator Kelly Love, the Birch Hill facility services 67 customers. She said there was no impact on users because of the fire, noting only a portion of the plant was impacted.

    "There was no impact to users at all," said Love.

    The cause of the fire is under investigation, Love said.

    MUA's troubles This is the latest in the Municipal Utilities Authority's woes. For years, users of the MUA have dealt with poor water quality and sewage overflows. Last May the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection sent a scathing letter to the MUA pointing out the authority's deficiencies. The letter stated the facilities were "in a state of severe disrepair" and blamed the situation on management neglect and lack of oversight. "The situation presents an immediate public health concern," according to the DEP. This sparked a furor among residents and the mayor and council. Mayor Bettina Bieri proposed changing the management of the utility, getting rid of the volunteers that are appointed by the council and Love, who some feel is not qualified for the administrator's position. The council countered that the MUA needs about $20 million to upgrade its aging facilities, which serve about 2,000 residents. They requested funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Then, in the summer and fall, vandals allegedly targeted some of the MUA facilities throughout the township. MUA management reportedly met with state Homeland Security personnel about the matter. No arrests have been made.