Each week former New Jersey State Assemblymen and former gubernatorial candidates John Wisniewski (Democrat) & Jack Ciattarelli (Republican) will tackle New Jersey's most pressing issues:
WATER CRISIS IN NEWARK
Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo announced that the Essex County Improvement Authority will bond $120 million for the City of Newark "to use only for its pipe replacement program." But all agree that a long-term permanent solution is needed to solve the Newark Water Crisis.
So, how did this happen, who's at fault, and what is the long term solution?
John: The Newark Water crisis is the latest example of what happens when we ignore infrastructure needs for too long. This is a national problem. A 2016 article in Scientific American noted “nearly 3,000 areas with … recorded lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint.”
The Newark Water crisis happened because the service lines that bring drinking water into resident’s homes corroded. It’s a problem that has been steadily building up over many years. The New York Times wrote recently that “in 2009, the city estimated that the rate of children affected by lead poisoning … was three times higher than it was in New Jersey.”
Pointing a finger now doesn’t deliver clean drinking water to anyone. There will be more than enough time to figure out who should have done what when. For now, solutions are needed. A good start was Essex County Executive DiVincenzo’s decision to loan $120 million to Newark to replace the 6,000 service lines that are leaching lead into the drinking water. Action is needed in Trenton too.
While Newark is the most populous, it is but one of 565 municipalities that are facing water and other infrastructure problems of a similar scale. Most communities couldn’t sustain themselves without a reliable drinking water supply. To change this, New Jersey needs a statewide bond referendum to raise money to fix every lead leaching service line in the state. It is a worthwhile investment in the health of our families and our communities.
Jack: Newark’s water pipes, like many urban infrastructure systems around the country, are decrepit. That said, the situation in Newark has been a ticking time bomb for decades, and every politician who has previously served there knows it. Sadly, far too many politicians “kick the can down the road” hoping the system doesn’t fail on their watch.
Rather than delay the inevitable and blame the state or federal government for a crisis decades in the making, local politicians need to think “outside the box.” They need to be innovative. They need to work in partnership with county government and the private sector to get things done, especially when it comes to protecting the public health. For example, I know, as a former Freeholder, how county government can intervene by loaning money to municipalities at a very low-interest rate for infrastructure projects. The good news is Essex County has enormous bonding/borrowing capacity that can immediately be extended to Newark.
Given this emergent situation, and in fairness to its citizens, Newark borrowing from Essex County is the only viable approach to solving this public health crisis permanently and, most importantly, as soon as possible.