NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced a new plan Monday to fast-track the process of replacing all lead service pipes amid the city’s ongoing water emergency.
The plan would significantly reduce the time it would take to replace those pipes.
Watch: Officials Announce Plan To Speed Up Replacement Of Lead Service Lines In Newark
Murphy and Baraka were joined by other elected officials to announce the latest solution to address elevated lead levels found in the city’s drinking water.
Under the plan, Essex County will issue a $120 million bond to replace the problematic lead service pipes. It drastically speeds up the ongoing project, which was initially scheduled to take eight to 10 years. With the new investment, the work should get underway in a couple of weeks and could be completed in just two or three years.
“We’re going to bring more crews in, obviously, have a project manager over this and being putting more people on the ground simultaneously to do this kind of work throughout the city,” Baraka said.
Officials say the work will also open up hundreds of job for locals.
Newark Water Update: Essex Co Exec, Newark Mayor, Gov Murphy and other officials announce the county will take out a $120 million loan to expedite plans to replace all lead pipes in the city. (thread) @CBSNewYork pic.twitter.com/f68GkDH6lk
— Aundrea Cline-Thomas (@AClineThomas) August 26, 2019
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. said they’re happy to bail out their biggest city but the bond comes with strict guidelines: It can only be applied to the pipe replacement program. Now Newark can replace all the lead pipelines in the city with copper ones, and fast.
“We are going to do this as swiftly as humanly possible. We are going to make sure that we are all on the same page and we get this done as aggressively as we can,” Baraka said.
The program was possible only because Essex County had achieved a AAA bond rating for the first time in the county’s history.
“This assistance would not have been possibly five, 10 or 15 years ago because of the financial pressure we were experiencing at the county level. The AAA bond rating is an obscure achievement to the public, but today clearly demonstrates why it is so important. Because of our fiscal health, we are able to borrow money at a significantly lower rate that will save Newark upwards of $15-20 million in interest over the life of the bond. We are pleased to pass along these significant financial savings into Newark, and help modernize its water system, so all residents – pregnant mothers, babies, seniors, and the infirm included – have safer water to drink. This challenge was to important to ignore,” DiVincenzo said.
The plan will be at no cost to affected homeowners, Baraka said.
“With this new money, we are anticipating that no one would have to pay anything to get their lead service lines actually replaced,” Baraka said. “Replacing the lead service lines is the only permanent way to address this issue.”
A major hurdle, however, will be contacting landlords. Seventy percent of Newark residents are renters, but owners need to give permission.
“[We’re] trying to create a law or ordinance that would allow us to go on people’s property and fix their lead service lines without their permission,” Baraka said.
Kim Gabby just had her lead service line replace at her home in the South Ward, but it wasn’t easy.
“Because I’m a renter, I had to make sure that the homeowner actually went online, registered our property…” Gabby told CBS2’s Meg Baker.
More than 770 service lines have been replaced since March, Baraka said – there are 18,000 lines that need to be replaced. Since March, city officials have given out over 30,000 water filters to residents. But after those recently proved ineffective, they’ve handed out cases of bottled water to residents forced to wait in long lines.
“It’s been nervewracking,” one resident told CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas.
“I hope they get better,” said another.
Newark has had water woes for years with old infrastructure but no funding to replace it. Decades ago, the city instituted a corrosion control program that prevents lead from leaching from pipes into water, but in 2016, the chemical stopped working. Public records show the city increased the acidity of the water to combat carcinogens, but the acidity may have reduced the effectiveness of the corrosion control chemical, leading to increased lead levels in drinking water.
“That is responsibility of the city to make sure, and DEP, to kind of figure that out so that it doesn’t happen down the line,” Gabby said.
Newark officials took that action on their own to meet safety standards. The city decision maker at that time and still in the position, Kareem Adeem, is not an engineer or even a college graduate and has a criminal record. Baraka has defended Adeem, saying he knows what’s best for city water.
A vote will be held Tuesday to declare a health emergency in the city. Essex County freeholders will also hold an emergency meeting to officially approve the bond.
“We all know that we have to work faster and harder and together, importantly, to restore residents’ trust in their water,” Murphy said. “It goes without saying that this is a situation that none of us welcomed but which we are all committed to getting it right.”
Murphy said he was proud that New Jersey municipalities came together to expedite this process.
“The source water does not have lead in it at all,” Baraka told MSNBC. “The issue is that they have lead service lines, and lead leaches from pipes and gets into the water, because our corrosion control stopped working some time ago. The EPA told us.”
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