NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Ras Baraka said he does not deem it necessary to answer a call for Gov. Phil Murphy to declare a state of emergency amid a lead water crisis, saying the city is “working around the clock” to determine what it plans to do next.
Baraka was responding to a letter sent to him and Murphy on Tuesday by state Assemblyman Jamel Holley, a fellow Democrat from neighboring Union County.
The Roselle Democrat suggested a takeover of the Newark’s water department by state and federal environmental officials and bringing in the National Guard to help distribute bottled water to residents.
Baraka, in a letter to Holley, disagreed.
“Let me be clear about one thing: the City of Newark is not interested in turning over our water source to any outside entity,” the letter reads.
The governor's press office declined to provide an official response from Murphy and instead pointed to remarks he made to a reporter Wednesday after a meeting at the Essex County Utilities Authority in Newark, in which he said he would not declare a state of emergency.
More than 38,000 water filters have been distributed across Newark since October 2018, according to the mayor. His letter also highlighted the replacement of more than 700 lead service lines and that in the long term, the city and state would spend $75 million to replace 18,000 lead service lines throughout the city.
The city launched a new corrosion control system in May that Baraka wrote should result in the reduction of lead levels that experts could see by the end of this year.
While New Jersey has not declared a state of emergency over the lead water issue, the city declared a state of emergency in October 2018 so it could purchase PUR water filters under a contract worth more than $1.3 million, according to court documents.
The city did not go to a public bid as normally required because immediate action to obtain the filters was needed after the officials discovered its corrosion control treatments were no longer effective.
Baraka wrote that bottled water will be provided to residents until additional water testing for residents living within the Pequannock service area is complete.
His letter indicated the City of Newark was working with state and federal officials, as well as the water filtration manufacturer "to conduct additional testing and determine the best course of action as quickly as possible."