Everyone knows it has always been a coveted desire to privatize Newark’s Water Department. The money such an agency would generate would be massive and would invite corruption. If you don’t believe me just look at what happened under the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation.

In 2013, an investigation by a State Comptroller revealed that there was ramped corruption and mismanagement at the NWCDC at the time when former Mayor Booker’s longtime friend and campaign treasurer oversaw the agency as its legal counsel.

The NWCDC received an annual operating budget of over $10 million a year from the city of Newark to manage the city’s water infrastructure. To date, the corruption at the Watershed has garnered multiple guilty pleas and a nearly $60,000 penalty levied against Trenk, DiPasquale, Della Fera & Sodono (a firm which they were both partners), according to a May 2019 article in the New Jersey Law Journal.

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It should be noted that the firm has since disbanded and all attorneys have landed with other firms who still work for local governments. Add on the intellectual dishonesty of the current administration as to when they were made aware about the water issues I will always contend privatizing Newark’s Water Department would only invite corruption and abuse that Newark can no longer afford.      

To deal with the crisis at present, the short term solution lies in working with both the Republican and Democrat delegations at the federal and state levels to solicit funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency to start immediate repairs and secure disaster relief for residents.

The governor, if he hasn’t already, should make an emergency declaration and immediately involve the state Department of Environmental Protection and Newark should be able to apply for a Water Quality Restoration Grant to help with the repair cost.

The Governor can then solicit the support of our network of state colleges and universities to avail whatever breakthrough technologies and support services they have through their engineering and environmental sciences programs. 

The long term solution requires vision, compromise, hope and discipline. Going forward Newark should establish an Infrastructure Trust for improvements to Newark’s Water System. The Mayor, with council consent, should restructure and tier tax abatements and credits based off of a business’ impact on the water infrastructure itself and reasonable assessment of cost for their delivery.

The theory is the business community’s commitment and contribution to the trust can also support its request for taxes in lieu of, tax credits offered, or tax abatements granted, providing some relieve for the taxpayers, who are ultimately responsible for covering these types of incentive programs.

Operating like a credit union in principle, it would be more of a co-op of investors from our business community and revenue generated from New Jersey’s “RAIN TAX” Legislation, which is legislation that allows a municipality to assess a fee based on how much impervious surface — such as concrete or pavement — covers a property. The fee helps fund projects to reduce runoff by replacing failing storm water systems that already exist and creating new buffers and green spaces to filter contaminants in runoff.

Revenue generated from this initiative should be the continual funding source of the trust. Given how areas of Newark floods during rainstorms and then after the melting of snow, after snowstorms, I don’t think we would have a problem realizing revenue from such an initiative.

Not to mention the job opportunities that could be created from the skills required to execute such a service. The trust should have the authority to apply for grants and federal funding for environmental issues, infrastructure growth and repairs with its immediate focus being replacing every lead line throughout the entire city. 

It is an ambitious goal but I am sure the majority of the lines can be replaced within 12 months. Clearly, Newark has an issue with its water supply and no matter who is to blame Newark needs all hands on deck to abate and deal with this crisis.

Community members have assessed blame in a number of directions but no matter where the buck stops, ultimately, it is evident Newark’s Water Infrastructure woes were created because of mismanagement, malfeasance, negligence, a lack of vision and courage and now is the time to change our course for the better.