In the 1890's, R.S. Sinclair of South Orange wrote letters to surrounding communities asking for a "joint meeting" to discuss methods of cooperative disposal of sewage. Six towns joined in the effort and the New Jersey Legislature passed a special act in 1898. Since then, the Joint Meeting has brought together the efforts of the member communities to dispose of their community wastes.
The original Joint Meeting sewer was constructed during the period from 1901-1904. This Joint Meeting trunk sewer began at the Summit-Millburn line, with branches from the West Orange line and from Newark, flowing through the Township of Union and the City of Elizabeth to the Arthur Kill in Elizabeth. The section that passes through Elizabeth and Union, includes sewer diameters from 33 inches through 72 inches, is constructed of brick and mortar for the most part, with double laid courses of parged brick and mortar and jute joints. There are approximately 9.2 miles of brick sewer and approximately 13.9 miles of tile pipe involved in the original joint trunk sewer. The original sewer included a brick lined tunnel, 0.8 miles in length, in Union through the ridge that separates the Rahway River watershed from the Elizabeth River watershed. By 1920 the original sewer was found to be inadequate to carry the flows from the various municipalities. It was necessary to construct a supplementary joint trunk sewer. The construction of this sewer took place during the period of 1926 to 1936. This sewer was constructed of more modern materials involving some 18.6 miles of reinforced concrete pipe varying in size from 24 inch to 81 inch diameter. At the outer limits of the supplementary joint trunk sewer, tile pipe was utilized with jute joints for some 2.5 miles of supplementary system. Following the completion of the supplementary sewer, a supplemental tunnel was drilled through the ridge in Union parallel to the old line to more nearly match the total capacity of the two lines upstream and downstream.
In the early 1930's, during the time the supplementary sewer line was constructed, the Joint Meeting constructed a primary sewage treatment plant in Elizabeth and discontinued the discharge of raw sewage into the Arthur Kill. Wastewater flows are delivered to the plant by twin 5'8" high by 5'7" wide rectangular flumes.
During the 1970's, the primary treatment plant was expanded to provide secondary wastewater and residuals treatment. Originally designed as 75 million gallons per day (MGD) secondary treatment facility, the treatment facility was subsequently re-rated to a hydraulic limit of 85 MGD.
Secondary treatment is a wastewater process used to convert dissolved or suspended materials into a form more readily separated from the water being treated. The secondary treatment process at Joint Meeting was designed to be able to be operated either as a conventional or step aeration process.
In the late 1980's construction was begun on the Sludge Dewatering Facility and in 1992 was placed into service. The purpose of this facility is to take sludge from the final step, the digestion process and dispose of it in a more economical but most importantly, more environmentally sound way. This is accomplished by removing water from the sludge in centrifuges, which raises the solids content from approximately 3% solids by weight to approximately 25%. Lime is added to further treat the solids. This reduces the volume of sludge which is disposed in mine reclamation projects or presently as a nutrient soil supplement for farmland. Before this facility was built the sludge was transported by barge 100 miles offshore and dumped into the Atlantic Ocean.
Towards the end of the 20th century construction started on the Sludge Drying Facility. Here the sludge from the dewatering facility enters large dryers that remove almost all of the moisture and compact it in to pellets that may be used as fertilizer. After completion of the dryer facility the Dewatering and Dryer Facilities were renamed to become the Biosolids Facility. The facility was mothballed in 2002 as fuel costs, handling issues and processes made the facility less cost effective. This may be changed in the near future depending on market trends for biosolids.
In the middle to late 2000's construction was completed to rebuild the dock around the Joint Meeting outfall at the Arthur Kill. Construction was also completed on the new Lab Building located in the area just east of the Pump and Office Building. Construction of the new power plant which is able to supply a large percentage of the power for the main plant area was completed in late 2009. The power plant generated almost 77% of the main plant power requirements for 2010 reflecting a savings of approximately $1.4 million for power expenditures for the year.