Essex County to finance $120M to replace lead water pipes in Newark

NEWARK, NJ — On Aug. 26, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and Gov. Phil Murphy announced a partnership 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.”

“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,” Murphy said. “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.”

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,” DiVincenzo 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.”

“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,” Baraka said. “We are committed to modernizing our infrastructure so that every Newark resident has access to clean, safe drinking water.”

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 approximately 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 review. Each body has scheduled special meetings tomorrow, Aug. 27, 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.