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Baraka Hosts 'State of Water' Town Hall, Defends Record On Handling of Situation

Ang Santos

The city of Newark has taken several major steps in recent weeks towards replacing lead service lines in homes.  Essex County issued a 120-million-dollar bond for the city to speed up the process.  And Mayor Ras Baraka recently announced a lease deal made with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for 155 million dollars to help pay for it.

Baraka says Newark is the only city in New Jersey with a plan to fix every lead service line.

“Without costs to the residents at all,” he said.  “You won’t see it in your taxes.  You won’t see it on your water bill.  Not only just in New Jersey but we are one of very few cities in the entire country that’s changing their lead service lines at this expeditious speed and we’re the only city that’s doing it that generated locally ourselves.”

But Baraka changed his tone a bit addressing the crowd, saying some organizations and media outlets spread misinformation when the water crisis went public in 2017.  

“People said the Mayor lied.  The Mayor covered it up.  The Mayor didn’t tell the truth.  That we waited until 2018.”

Baraka had on hand; several documents he says the city distributed to residents almost immediately after the Environmental Protection Agency made him aware of lead exceedances.  

“It says the city of Newark, testing for lead in drinking water,” he said.  Property owners can have their lead service lines replaced for a nominal fee.  This is not 2019, this is not 2018, this is 2017.”

The Mayor admits that the information on paper may have been confusing or possibly overwhelming for many residents but says…

“I will not concede that I let kids go to school and drink lead from the water without letting their parents know.  That I let families have lead in their homes without informing them.  That is not the truth.”

Still, the Mayor’s town hall didn’t end without protest, from members of the Newark Water Coalition, a group that disapproves of Baraka’s handling of the situation.

“You didn’t answer any of our concerns,” said a member of the group.

Baraka insists the group protests with special interest.

“Half of them ran for office and lost,” Baraka said.  “The don’t live in the city of Newark.  This one that’s talking lives in West Orange,” Baraka said.

Baraka told the audience that misinformation from such organizations has eroded trust in the city of Newark.

“And that’s some people’s goal to do that.  But that is not the reason that we’re having this, so you have trust in me.  We want you to have trust that when you turn your water on, that when it comes out, it’s ok.”

City officials in Newark hope to replace every lead service line in 24 to 30 months.  In the meantime, they’ll continue to distribute federally certified water filters to residents as they wait for a new corrosion control chemical that recoats the inner linings of pipes, to reduce lead from leaching into the drinking water.