Baraka says it could cost 'billions' to fix Newark water system

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on March 29, 2016

Mayor Ras Baraka, talks about charter schools in Newark. Mayor Ras Baraka hosts an education forum Monday evening at Central High School. Monday March 28, 2016.

 

NEWARK – Mayor Ras Baraka renewed his call for outside help in dealing with the Newark's water crisis Monday, saying it could take more than a billion dollars to update the city's crumbling pipes and other infrastructure.

Speaking at an education forum at Central High School Monday night, the mayor said contamination at nearly half of the city's 67 schools had shed new light a problem that stretched well beyond Newark.

"They are making discoveries that this issue is not just a Northern Jersey problem," he said. "There has to be a statewide problem."

Since the problems at Newark schools, which date back until at least 2012, became public earlier this month, officials across the state have begun drafting legislation and lobbying for new funding to increase testing and address problems with aging infrastructure.

Baraka said he had met with the city's state senate delegation and Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex) Monday morning to discuss how to build support for a bill that would create a 10-cent bottle deposit in the state, proceeds from which would be dedicated to updating outdated water systems.

In comments after the meeting, he said the bill represented the kind of outside help necessary in order to fix what the city's water system including old pipes, water mains and combined sewer overflows – work he estimated would likely require more than $1 billion to complete.

"It's a huge undertaking to just deal with the water systems in the schools, and then the infrastructure problems that we have as a city would be huge of course," he said. "We don't have the money and the resources to do that."

At the education panel, attendees largely struck a measured tone about the ongoing crisis in the city's schools. Many chose to focus on other education-related issues, including the expansion of charter schools, a new "community schools" initiative in the South Ward and the proposed sale of 12 vacant school buildings by the Newark Housing Authority.

Discussion often circled back to lead contamination, however, with many residents saying recent headlines had stirred up fears that the supplies in their aging homes could be laden with dangerous levels of the chemical.

"I don't want my child to go to school and drink clean water, then go back home and drink dirty water," said Willie Johnson, a 64-year-old city resident.

Gee Cureton, a district leader in the city's West Ward, said she was concerned many residents had not been fully apprised of the situation.

"If we don't get the information, that creates a lot of anxiety and fear," said Gee Cureton, a district leader in the city's West Ward. "(Those that have the information) understand clearly that the problem is not a water problem, it's the age of infrastructure."

The city's water and sewer director, Andrea Adebowale, reassured attendees that water at 50 sites around the city had been tested in 2015, with the vast majority returning lead levels well below those considered dangerous. The federal Environmental Protection Agency requires those tests be performed every three years, she added, though officials are planning to do them on a six-month basis in light of recent events.

Later in the discussion, Baraka continued to push for outside help.

"Newark cannot be responsible for billions of dollars to fix the water issue," he said.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment