Vice president visits Newark to highlight success of Lead Line Replacement Program

Photo Courtesy of Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris and Gov. Phil Murphy visit Newark on Feb. 11 to highlight the success of the city’s Lead Line Replacement Program.

NEWARK, NJ — Mayor Ras J. Baraka and Gov. 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 on Feb. 11.

“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,” 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.”

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.

“Newark, N.J., 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,” Harris said. “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 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.”

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 Department of Education, 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, Regan also 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,” Regan 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,” Murphy said. “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.”

After the City approved a $75 million bond for the project to begin in June 2018, Essex County Executive Joseph N. 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,” DiVincenzo said. “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.”

“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,” U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said. “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,” U.S. Sen. Cory A. Booker said. “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.”

“It is an honor to welcome Vice President Kamala Harris to our district again and celebrate the replacement of water pipes throughout the city,” U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. said. “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.”

Adeem said the cooperation of residents, in addition to various levels of government, was also critical to the program’s success.

“I’d like to thank our residents because they were behind us all the way,” Adeem said. “They wanted to see this get done. During the worst parts of COVID-19, some people were giving our workers personal protective equipment so they could keep working. This was a team effort between the city government and its people.”