NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Ras Baraka said Tuesday that $155 million coming to the city from the Port Authority will help pay the debt service on a $120 million loan Newark secured from Essex County to replace lead service lines.
It was a slightly different message than the one sent by Baraka’s office on Monday that billed the announcement as “aid” to pay for lead service line replacement.
The city, so far, has replaced nearly 1,000 of 18,000 lead service lines, a project expected to take at least two years.
Baraka stressed the additional funds from the Port Authority would not be used to directly pay for the replacement of the lead service lines but instead pay the debt service on a $120 million loan the city is using to cover the cost of the replacement program.
“This had absolutely nothing to do with the issue around the lead service lines in the city,” Baraka said. “We are however grateful that we were able to settle this during this time period.”
The Port Authority money comes as the city reached an existing lease agreement with the agency, which pays the city for the use of Port Newark and the airport. The dispute over the lease agreement, which granted the authority an extension to use the property, has been going on for years.
“This extension advances critical infrastructure projects including Port Street Corridor Improvements and the replacement of the aging Newark AirTrain, as well as resolves several outstanding disputes between the parties,” the Port Authority said in a statement.
Baraka and other officials at City Hall said the money secured from the amended lease agreement could be also be used for other infrastructure projects or to pay for additional city needs and that the $120 million loan completely covers the cost of replacing all lead lines.
“Once we get the deal done, it becomes our money, we could do whatever we want with it so we are electing to use it to pay debt service,” Baraka said of the money expected to pad the city’s general fund.
City and state officials announced in late September that preliminary test results on 97 percent of the PUR water filters the city has been handing out to residents were effectively reducing lead to below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action level.
Baraka said the city has since scaled back its effort to give out free bottled water to residents whose households are impacted by toxic levels of lead.
Asked why no Port Authority officials joined the mayor to make the announcement Baraka said he believed the agency did not want to further confuse the public.
“I think that they too do not want to conflate the issues,” Baraka said. “They don’t want it to appear that this is just about lead service lines because in all actuality, factually, it’s not.”