Newark wants to replace lead pipes on private property, with or without owners’ OK

Posted Sep 5, 2019

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the replacement of the 18,000 old lead pipes snaking underground will be mandatory -- and free -- for all city property owners.

On Thursday, Baraka asked the City Council to pass legislation requiring homeowners to either sign up for a $132 million lead service line replacement program or else change the garden-hose sized pipes themselves. Newark has grappled with elevated lead levels in its drinking water since 2017.

Lead is leaching off old pipes that connect water mains to homes; the city is working to replace them within three years.

“We need to get more property owners to sign up for Lead Service Line Replacement Program at no cost,” Baraka said in a statement. “Newark is a city of renters and too often landlords either can’t be found or show a lack of interest in this important health initiative. This ordinance will enable the city to replace all lead service lines and to do so quickly.”

About 78% of residents are renters. And so far more than 770 pipes have been replaced since the program rolled out in March.

Baraka said if the legislation passes later this month, Newark will be the first major city in the U.S. to make this a requirement.

Newark is under renewed spotlight since it began distributing bottled water on Aug. 12 to 14,000 homes after alarming tests showed two of three tested filters were not removing lead at expected levels. Results from another 225 homes are expected back within one to two weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy said on WBGO on Wednesday night. Although only residents serviced by the Pequannock treatment plant on the west side of the city are directly affected, Baraka has said all lead pipes across Newark will be replaced.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said the county would loan Newark $120 million to expedite the pipe replacement and absorb any homeowner costs. The county money accelerated a previous plan the city was working toward, which would have taken eight years and cost up to $1,000 for property owners.

Under the proposed ordinance, homeowners must sign up for the free program to get their pipes changed or replace the lead line themselves within 90 days. The ordinance will empower the city to come on the property without permission for those who do not sign up.

Newark also changed its water treatment process in May, which will create a protective coating inside lead service lines to prevent lead from flaking off. Those chemicals will take months to take effect and the city has said getting rid of the problem requires getting rid of the contaminant’s source.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, is working on drafting a bill that would mandate this statewide.

“We didn’t want to wait for the state’s legislative process," Newark’s corporation counsel Kenyatta Stewart said. “It is important that this work be completed quickly, and by passing this local ordinance, Newark will get shovels in the ground faster.”

To obtain a certificate of occupancy, property owners will have to provide proof that lead service lines have been replaced.

Residents are feeling increasingly frustrated and confused, particularly as the 39,000 filters they were told to rely on as a temporary fix to the lead problem are now in question. City officials have said they’re working to get answers quickly and fix the problem.

Baraka said more than $300,000 has been raised in an online water fund in partnership with the United Way of Essex and West Hudson and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey to purchase bottled water.

Murphy, too, reiterated his support for Baraka Wednesday night.

“I’ve been working side by side with Mayor Baraka and his team,” Murphy said. “I believe in my experience, in every turn, the mayor and his team wake up with the right intentions, to try to do the right thing.”

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