NEWARK, NJ - City council on Wednesday hired two vendors for a total of $10.3 million to begin to replacing lead service lines for homeowners. 

The vendors will start to replace lead pipes for about 1,500 homes in January, city spokesman Frank Baraff said. The work represents the first part of a 10-phase project to replace lead pipes to about 15,000 homes.

“I believe that they start with homes that not only have lead service lines but also have high lead readings when the water was tested,” Baraff said when asked which homes the phase I will target.

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The city hired Pacific Construction, LLC., of Whitehouse Station, for about $3.8 million. Roman E&G Corp, of Newark, was awarded two separate contracts: one for about $3.7 million and another for $2.8 million. All three contracts went through a public bidding process. 

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The state issued the first of three violations to the city for elevated lead levels in 2017, which sparked a lawsuit filed by an environmental group against local and state officials.The city-commissioned a study in January this year that found the chemical the city treats its water with had become ineffective at preventing lead from leaching off into residents' pipes.

City officials expect it will take roughly eight years to replace all of the lead service lines throughout Newark. Although lead pipes leading into residents’ homes are private property, the city approved a $75 million bond program to finance the massive undertaking. 

The program helps homeowners pay a majority of the cost to replace their lead pipes. Residents are expected to pay about $1,000 for new lines on their property, and they can pay that off in installments, Baraff said. 

The city was able to issue bonds to replace lead pipes on private property because of a bill co-sponsored by state Assemblywomen Eliana Pintor Marin and Cleopatra Tucker, Democrats who represent parts of Newark. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill in August.

Baraff said the state Local Finance Board has fully approved the bond program too.

In the meantime, the city plans to build a new booster station in January for the Pequannock Treatment Plant that will implement a new, effective corrosion control inhibitor, said Newark’s Water and Water of Sewer Utilities Department Acting Director Kareem Adeem. City officials have previously said it will take about eight to 10 months for the new corrosion control inhibitor to take effect. 

The new chemical will be the same used at the Wanaque Treatment Plant, which city officials say is effective at preventing lead from dissolving in pipes. The Wanaque Treatment Plant services the Eastern part of the city.

The city also spent about $1 million on 20,000 lead filters, Baraff said, and another 20,000 were donated by PUR. Filters began to be distributed in October. 

About 23,000 lead filters have been distributed so far, Baraff said.

Homeowners can learn more about applying for the city's pipe replacement program and see if they qualify for a free lead filter online

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