Government

Essex County to Offer $120M in Bonds to Improve Newark Water Infrastructure

County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., (at podium) addresses the Press Conference. Also pictured are; Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (far left) New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (immediate left of DiVincenzo) and Freeholder President Brendan W. Gill (center) along with other local elected and county officials.

Neighboring towns like South Orange and Maplewood have been looking for ways in which to support residents in Newark through the city’s water crisis. Now, they have their chance — through their shared Essex County government.

With no Federal aid yet pledged, Essex County officials are offering to issue $120M in bonds to replace 18,000 lines of lead pipes, alleviating the cost to Newark residents as well as speeding the process. According to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka at a press conference in Newark today, the money will be used to replace the buried lead service lines in the next 24 to 30 months.

The city began a 10-year program of pipe replacement in March with funding from the State; since then, pipes at approximately 700 properties have been replaced. However, officials say that the $120 million “up front” from the County “will enable the City to award contracts more quickly and to multiple contractors simultaneously,” helping to complete the replacements much faster.

The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders has indicated that it will support the issuance of the bonds: The Board is holding an emergency meeting Tuesday, August 27 (4:00 p.m. at the Hall of Records in Newark), where it is “poised to affirm a $120 million dollar bond ordinance intended to finance and fix the problem.”

Meanwhile, the city will continue bottled water distribution — although some residents have stood in line for hours waiting; the city turned to water distribution in recent weeks after it found that city-distributed filters were not removing sufficient amounts of lead from the water. The local MEND Hunger Relief Network has been collecting bottles water locally for distribution at its Newark shelters.

Both the Essex County Executive’s office and the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders issued press releases on the topic following the press conference today. See the releases below. Read The New York Times coverage here.

“The one constant throughout this challenge has been the fact that the one agreed upon long-term solution to address the presence of lead in the drinking water is to replace lead water pipes leading from the water main to individual properties,” Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said in the release. “The partnership we are entering into will provide Newark with the needed money to replace every lead water service pipe so this problem can be eliminated sooner rather than later.”

According to the Times, DiVincenzo also took the Federal government to task. As Gov. Phil Murphy, Baraka, DiVincenzo and others have called on the Environmental Protection Agency to provide financial assistance, DeVincenzo said that the Federal government’s response has been “lacking.”

From the Essex County Executive’s office: 

Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced a partnership with Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday, August 26th to fund the complete replacement of lead pipes in the City’s water distribution system. According to the agreement, the Essex County Improvement Authority will assist Newark in financing $120 million, which will enable the city to expedite the replacement of lead water pipes connecting the water main to individual properties.

“Water testing is being done, the use of filters is being recommended and the chemical balance of the water is being checked. The one constant throughout this challenge has been the fact that the one agreed upon long-term solution to address the presence of lead in the drinking water is to replace lead water pipes leading from the water main to individual properties,” DiVincenzo said. “The partnership we are entering into will provide Newark with the needed money to replace every lead water service pipe so this problem can be eliminated sooner rather than later,” he added.

“Although we are all working hard to address the near-term priorities of providing bottled water and implementing a corrosion control system, we are also clearly focusing on the long-term solutions, including replacing aging water infrastructure,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “I thank County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Mayor Ras Baraka, Freeholder President Brendan Gill and all Essex County officials for their continued dedication to tackling our current lead challenges in partnership with the State of New Jersey and the EPA,” he added.

DiVincenzo offered the use of the ECIA’s borrowing power to Baraka because of Essex County’s Aaa rating. This will enable Newark to borrow funds at considerably lower interest rates without further burdening the City’s ability to fund future capital improvement projects.

“Through our conservative budgeting practices and the recurring revenue we have been receiving, we earned a Aaa rating for the first time in Essex County’s history. This assistance would not have been possible five, 10 or 15 years ago because of the financial pressures we were experiencing at the County level,” the County Executive said. “The Aaa bond rating is an obscure achievement to the public, but today clearly demonstrates why it is so important. Because of our fiscal health, we are able to pass along significant financial savings to Newark and help modernize its water system so all residents – pregnant mothers, babies, seniors and the infirm included – have safer water to drink. This challenge was too important to ignore and I am happy that Essex is able to help,” he added.

“Newark is tackling a decades-old issue with a $120 million investment to quickly replace every lead service line in our community and permanently solve this infrastructure challenge once and for all,” Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka said. “We are committed to modernizing our infrastructure so that every Newark resident has access to clean, safe drinking water. I want to thank Essex County Executive DiVincenzo and Governor Murphy for their steadfast support and commitment to helping us address this issue,” he added.

Using funding from the State, Newark was able to begin the first phase of a 10-year program to replace lead water service pipes in March 2019. There are about 18,000 properties where lead service pipes need to be replaced. To date, the pipes at approximately 700 properties have been replaced. Getting the $120 million up front will enable the City to award contracts more quickly and to multiple contractors simultaneously, with the expectation that the entire job could be completed within 24 to 30 months instead of being prolonged over a decade.

The proposed agreement will be presented to the Essex County Board of Freeholders, Newark City Council and the ECIA Board of Commissioners for their review. Each body has scheduled special meetings tomorrow (Tuesday, August 27th) to consider the proposal. If approved, the money should be available to Newark later this fall.

DiVincenzo also announced that the same terms of this loan program have been extended to the municipalities of Bloomfield, Belleville and Nutley, which purchase water from Newark for sections of their communities.

From the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders:

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