NEWARK, NJ - Newark homeowners will no longer have to pay $1,000 out of pocket for lead service replacement lines, according to a $120 million Essex County bond plan meant to fix infrastructure amid the city's deepening lead water crisis.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. on Monday laid out the details of the $120 million bond that through the Essex County Improvement Authority will provide the funding to make the infrastructure repairs needed to stem the lead water crisis in Newark.
Essex County will lend the city $120 million via a 30-year bond to be used exclusively for the lead service line replacement program, started by the city in March. The initial estimated time to replace all of Newark's 18,000 antiquated lead lines was approximately eight to 10 years.
"As an elected official, I don't want to have to wait that long," said DiVincenzo, flanked by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Phil Murphy, stating that he anticipated the lead line program will be done in 24 to 30 months. "I want this solution to happen sooner rather than later."
City officials originally said the lead service lines that connect to water mains in the street are not the responsibility of the city, but of the homeowner. Because the pipes are on private property, homeowners would have to pay about $1,000 out of pocket for the replacement. It typically costs up to $10,000 to replace a lead service line, but that price was reduced due to a bond program that was made possible through legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Eliana Pintor Marin and Cleopatra Tucker signed last year by the governor.
However, Baraka, citing the "investment" made possible by the Essex County Improvement Authority, said that any out-of-pocket expenses for Newark residents were now over.
"With this new money, we're anticipating that no one would have to pay anything to get their lead service lines replaced. Replacing the lead service lines is the only permanent way to address this issue," Baraka said, noting that the city has replaced more than 700 lines since March. "We're so grateful for this additional support to help us dramatically accelerate this important work."
"We all know that we have to work faster, harder and together to restore residents' trust in their water," said Murphy, repeatedly stating that Baraka and his administration "have been in front" of the long term effort to replace the lead service lines. "Doing so will require broad cooperation at all levels to find solutions. It goes without saying that this is a situation that none of us welcomed, but that all of us are committed to getting right."
"I want to thank the County Executive for standing in the gap," said U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. who represents part of Newark. "We are not stopping on the federal level in order to secure funds in order to fix infrastructure in the future."
A series of legislative meetings on Tuesday is expected to provide the backing of the lead service replacement line initiative.
First, the plan will come before the Newark City Council at a morning session. The Essex County Board of Freeholders will meet in the afternoon. Then the Essex County Improvement Authority will consider the plan at an evening meeting.
"The Board is poised to affirm a $120 million dollar bond ordinance intended to finance and fix the [lead service contamination] problem," according to an official statement issued by the board in advance of their meeting.
The statement also noted that the loan program will also be extended to the Essex County municipalities of Bloomfield, Belleville, and Nutley, which purchase water from Newark for sections of their communities.
Meanwhile, the City of Newark will continue to distribute bottled water in the western half of the city serviced by the Pequannock water treatment plant. The distribution will continue until the city, state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency finish conducting tests to determine why filters provided by the city failed to adequately reduce lead levels in Newark tap water.
Baraka and Murphy, who have both received criticism for their response to a crisis that the national media has compared to Flint, Michigan, watched DiVincenzo set the tone.
"I believe we should get money from the state and federal governments. But we couldn't wait for them to react," DiVincenzo said. "We had to do it first."