Mayor Ras J. Baraka and Governor Phil Murphy welcomed Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan to Newark to highlight the success of the City’s Lead Line Replacement Program Friday.
“Less than three years ago, we put the first shovels in the ground with the goal of replacing all 23,000 lead service lines in the City,” Mayor Baraka said during the program at Newark’s Training, Recreation and Education Center. “Today, we are here to say we have replaced all known lead service lines, and we are confident in saying no city has replaced as many lines as fast with no charge to residents. I want to thank Vice President Harris and EPA Administrator Regan for supporting our City of Newark.”
Mayor Baraka also thanked Newark Water and Sewer Utility Director Kareem Adeem, who led the project and Newark’s federal, state, and county partners, as it was a collaborative effort.
Vice President Harris commented on Newark’s success in the replacement of lead pipes as the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes billions of dollars available for similar large-scale infrastructure projects.
“Newark, NJ is such an important place in our country for so many reasons. In terms of its history, vitality, in terms of its contribution to who we are as a nation. And this has been a longstanding issue. And you came in, cut through red tape, made this a high priority, and have now made it such a role model, that for the administrator and I who have taken to a road show to talk about the importance of removing lead from pipes and paint. We came here at the beginning of this tour to highlight what you have accomplished here in Newark as an example and a role model of what cities around our country are capable of doing. I thank you for that, I thank you,” Vice President Harris said.
The Vice President unveiled the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action plan in December. The plan includes 15 new initiatives by 10 federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Education Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Labor.
Mayor Baraka praised the initiative and said Newark’s experience in replacing all known lead service lines in less than three years can help other cities realize similar success.
In his remarks, Administrator Regan paid tribute to Newark’s work. “You know that we are going to take this and promote this all over the country. This is exactly what the President and Vice President did when we focused on lead pipes. We are here to focus on the city’s historic efforts to rid itself of every lead pipe and every lead service line,” he said.
“In 2019, Newark’s deteriorating water infrastructure sparked a national conversation regarding the best path forward to protect our communities and families from the dangers of lead exposure in drinking water,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “My Administration, with the partnership of Mayor Baraka, led an aggressive, whole-of-government approach to combating the lead crisis and ensuring our Newark families have access to clean, safe drinking water. Today, I am proud to celebrate the City of Newark and congratulate Mayor Baraka for their completion of replacing over 23,000 lead service lines throughout the city. With funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we will address this issue across the state and ensure safe drinking water flows to every New Jersey family. I encourage others to look to New Jersey as a model for how major infrastructure projects can be done successfully, with residents and communities at the forefront of the conversation.”
“Access to clean drinking water is a fundamental necessity of life and a building block for healthy kids and healthy communities. In the course of just under three years, Newark replaced 23,000 lead water service lines with copper pipes, and is now being celebrated as a national model for these types of infrastructure projects,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez. “This project is a testament to what can be accomplished through the collaboration and partnership of local, state, county, and federal government. Congratulations to Mayor Baraka and his team for having the vision and commitment to see this project through to completion and to County Executive DiVincenzo for providing Essex County’s AAA bond rating to access the $120 million in funding needed to get this done once and for all.”
“Today, the City of Newark marks the successful completion of an ambitious three-year project to replace thousands of lead service lines at no cost to residents,” said U.S. Senator Cory A. Booker. “This is an example of local, state, and federal officials coming together to develop a comprehensive plan that addressed this environmental injustice, serving as a blueprint for communities working on similar infrastructure projects. With the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure plan, more of these projects will be funded and undertaken in New Jersey and across the nation, helping us to address stark inequities in access to clean air and clean water, and putting America on the right path toward justice.”
“Today we celebrate what’s possible when we recognize that safe drinking water is a basic human right. I’ve been working to make this day a reality so we can bring clean, affordable drinking water to all New Jersey communities,” said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. “As Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I helped make it possible for New Jersey to transfer funds so that Newark could get the funding it needed to replace these dangerous lines. Unfortunately, communities across the country and right here in New Jersey still need funding to replace lead service lines, which is why the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $15 billion for states to do just that. I’ll continue to fight for funding for our state so that that everyone can trust the water coming out of the tap.”
“I commend Mayor Baraka on the success of the City of Newark’s Lead Line Replacement Program, which replaced all lead service lines throughout the city in under three years without charging residents a dime. With the partnership of Governor Murphy and the Biden-Harris Administration, I’m confident other cities in New Jersey will do the same,” said U.S. Rep. Albio Sires.
“It is an honor to welcome Vice President Kamala Harris to our district again and celebrate the replacement of water pipes throughout the city,” said U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. “I have worked diligently to get more than $53 million for the removal of lead-contaminated water pipes and fought to get $55 billion added to the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, to replace lead water pipes nationwide. When I heard about Newark’s water issues, I contacted the Environmental Protection Agency and asked them to make sure the city had enough bottled water. Then I helped hand out bottled water to Newark residents at the Bo Porter Sports Complex and the Boylan Street Recreation Center. I introduced the Test for Lead Act earlier to establish stronger water tests for lead in schools. It is now public law and helping to protect students from lead-contaminated water nationwide. This is a great day for Newark because no issue is more important than clean drinking water.”
After the City approved a $75 million bond for the project to begin in June 2018, Essex County Executive Joseph M. DiVincenzo, Jr., backed the City effort with an additional $120 million bond.
“Replacing the lead service lines in the City of Newark was a public health crisis that was too important to wait the 10 years it was predicted to take to replace all 23,000 lines,” said County Executive DiVincenzo. “That’s why I extended our AAA bond rating to Newark, which enabled the City to obtain the necessary financing up front at reduced borrowing costs. I commend Mayor Ras Baraka and the City for meeting their goal of completing the work in three years. This shows what different government levels can accomplish when we work together and should be viewed as a model for other municipalities and government agencies to follow.”
New Jersey State Legislature and Newark Municipal Council legislation paved the way for a swift and efficient program. As federal money now becomes available through the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, other municipalities facing the 10-year deadline to replace lead pipes can look at three important elements of Newark’s success. First, the state legislature allowed the City of Newark to use public money for the expressed private property improvement of replacing lead lines. Second, the City’s Municipal Council passed an ordinance that gave the City the “right of entry” to private property to replace lead lines. This was critical because nearly 80 percent of Newark residents rent and tracking down property owners for access to their property would have been time-consuming and costly. Third, the City replaced these lines for free. Maintaining and repairing service lines are usually the responsibility of the homeowner and average replacement could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $6,500.
“What we were able to accomplish in Newark, was nothing short of a success story which set a precedent for what collaboration amongst all levels of government should look like when there is a dire need. This concerted effort consisted of enabling legislation, that I proudly sponsored, as well as the County Executive’s commitment and Essex’s Triple A bond rating to secure the funding, the Mayor’s leadership in executing a direct and timely plan, and the dedicated support of the Governor,” said State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz. “Along with the resiliency and cooperation of Newark residents, we’ve been able to respond to a major issue in record time, in a manner that can be emulated around the country. I am hopeful that the federal initiative and other states can see similar success.”
Director Adeem said the cooperation of residents was also critical to the program’s success.
“I’d like to thank our residents because they were behind us all the way,” he said. “They wanted to see this get done. During the worst parts of COVID-19, some people were giving our workers PPE so they could keep working. This was a team effort between the City government and its people.”
For over two years, the City of Newark has been in compliance for four consecutive monitoring periods below acceptable levels of 15 parts per billion.
“Because of our new orthophosphate corrosion control system, our average parts per billion have fallen to single-digits,” Director Adeem said. “That’s about the same level as filtered bottled water. It’s proof that the new corrosion treatment was working.”
That system was introduced in 2017, after the prior chemical control had faltered, leading to the City’s first lead exceedances in 25 years.
Prior to the $190 million lead line replacement program, the City made $200 million in improvements to water and sewer infrastructure, and filtration, monitoring systems and environmental practices at its Pequannock water treatment plant and reservoir system.
In the coming weeks, the City will begin a $20 million project for more state-of-art improvements to filtration, electronic controls and monitors, and the pumping and drainage systems.