Essex County will provide $120 million in financing to speed up Newark's lead service line replacement program as the city contends with the deepening lead contamination water crisis, a source told TAPinto Newark.
The plan will be formally announced by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. at an event Monday at 10 a.m. at the Essex County LeRoy Smith, Jr. Public Safety Building in Newark along with Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Phil Murphy.
"They're going to have the money available to get Newark what they need to replace all those lead lines significantly quicker and faster than anyone had ever anticipated," said one source familiar with the plan who was not authorized to speak publicly before Monday's event. "Hopefully, that will get rid of the problem."
The city began replacing 18,000 antiquated lead lines in March, with the expectation that the plan would take more than eight years to complete. City officials have said the lead service lines that connect to water mains in the street are not the responsiblity of the city, but of the homeowner.
It would typically cost up to $10,000 to replace a lead service line, but that price is 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. Still, homeowners still have had to pay about $1,000 out of pocket. It's unclear if the funds from the county will eliminate the homeowner's share.
The source noted that this financial robustness of Essex County allows the county, through the Essex County Improvement Authority, to provide the bond funding to make the infrastructure repairs needed to stem the lead water crisis in Newark. Last year, Moody's Investor's Service increased Essex County's bond rating to Aaa.
"The county is ready to provide whatever is needed to get the job done," the source said. "When the county got the Aaa rating, people were like, that's great, but what does that mean? Because of the financial situation the county is in, this is what it means. Now the county is going to be able to help Newark, and in a way, prevent kids from dying from lead poisoning."
DiVincenzo's decision to get involved comes amid Newark's escalating water crisis that the national media has compared to Flint, MI, and just days after Baraka rejected a call from state Assemblyman Jamel Holley for the governor to declare a state of emergency.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed results showing that out of three filters provided to Newark residents by the city to reduce lead in the water to safe levels, two had failed to reduce lead to safe levels.
At the same time, the EPA urged Newark residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking until the results of the filter testing are fully understood and additional sampling is performed.
The city began bottled water distribution at several locations throughout the city, but only for Newark residents of the western half of the city who are serviced by the Pequannock water treatment plant with lead service lines who have received filters.
Lead has been leeching off from residents’ pipes because the corrosion control inhibitor the city treats its water with became ineffective, according to a city-commission study.