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By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - The public will have an opportunity to have a say on one part of the city's plan to eradicate Lead Service Lines here Sept. 18 now that the Municipal Council approved taking Essex County's $120 million bond-funded loan in their special Sept 10 session.
The council unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance amendment Sept. 5 which would give city officials and its contractors the go-ahead to replace the water service lines between the city's water mains and the homeowner's property. It was a late-starting, or walk-on bill submitted by Mayor Ras Baraka's Administration.
That LSL replacement, should the Municipal Council approve the amendment after its 5:30 p.m. Wednesday public hearing, would be made without notifying the homeowner and without getting the owner's permission.
Mayor Baraka has said several times in the last month that the bill, barring any similar legislation coming from the State House in Trenton, would further expedite the LSL Replacement Program currently underway.
Baraka has said that 78 percent of Newark's roughly 290,000 residents are apartment renters. Going ahead with the LSRP on private property would eliminate any delays from city officials and contractors having to locate and notify property owners.
The mayor is speaking from his directors and employees' experiences in trying to locate often absent landlords, property owners and/or limited liability corporations in matters ranging from quality of life enforcement to taxation.
Newark - like Orange, East Orange and some other municipalities - have resulted in employing a "clean and lien" program regarding property maintenance. Absentee owners would receive liens against their property from these cities to pay for their department of public works employees' cleaning up those holdings.
The proportion of absentee owners especially came under the spotlight in the wake of subprime mortgage collapse, which fueled the Great Recession of 2008. The owners include banks who are holding deeds to foreclosed homes in the recession's wake.
City administrators have not said how fast the amendment, Wednesday night council approval pending, would further speed up the city's LSLRP.
The plan's timeline, originally set on finishing in 10 years, have been expedited to 24-to-30 months since Aug. 26. The acceleration is to be fueled by the Essex County Improvement Authority's issuing of $120 million in bonds as announced that Monday morning by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.
Newark, as of Sept. 5, said it has replaced 800 of those LSLs in homes served by the Newark Water Supply Pequannock System. The Baraka Administration has increasingly focused on replacing the now-18,000 LSLs in Pequannock-fed homes in the South, West, Central and western part of the North Wards.
A majority of homes sampled in that area have registered more than 15 parts per billion of lead going back to 2017. The later readings came while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Newark DEP's Water and Sewer Utilities that the silicate additive to coat LSLs have lost its effectiveness.
Baraka has pointed at the LSLRP as the city taking an unprecedented step in eradicating lead in its post-main water distribution system. LSLs, until the last year, had been the traditional responsibility of the property owner. The anticipated $120 million loan, as of last month. means that homeowners are no longer facing a $1,000 "contribution" bill in joining the LSLRP as originally planned.
The council, as part of accepting the $120 million loan, held a public hearing and final approving vote here in a 10 a.m. Sept. 10 special meeting.
The council is accepting a $120 million loan that it will have to pay back to the ECIA over the next 30 year. Essex County is using its AAA bond rating to act as a guarantor to the Fairfield-based authority.
Newark, which is spending $75 million (including a $12.5 million state grant) on their original 10-year plan, can award more contractors and hire more workers to expedite the LSRP for the $120 million.
The County Freeholders were anticipated to hold a public hearing on their "ECIA Municipal Infrastructure Bond Guaranty," and likely final approval here at the Hall of Records Sept. 11 past press time.
Only a public hearing from The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' Local Finance Board stands in the way of the ECIA issuing bonds and lending Newark the $120 million later this autumn. The ECIA, Essex County and Newark may have made their presentation to the Trenton-based board Sept. 11 or are scheduled to do so Oct. 9.
It is not known, as of Noon Wednesday, if the LFB had granted Newark and the county an emergency waiver on their Aug. 22 filing deadline. They do have until Sept. 18 to file for the DCA board's Oct. 9 hearing.
There has been at least one "Local Talk" area resident who expressed his being wary of his township dealing with the ECIA at a Sept. 10 meeting.
Belleville Mayor Michael Melham and the Township Council was holding a public hearing Tuesday night on becoming the guarantor of $4.5 million in Belleville Public Schools construction bonds from the authority. The standard operating process paused to hear from laundromat owner and longtime public speaker Vincent J. Frantantoni.
"I wouldn't want anything to do with the ECIA," declared Frantantoni. "They're a mismanaged organization. They could have had another building at the Essex County Airport - but they failed to appear at the building's foreclosure auction."
Frantantoni then turned to the $30 million Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium in Newark, which was financed by a 1998-2028 ECIA bond issue.
"We were told in 1998 that the taxpayers would be paid back, that (modern Bears founder) Rick Cerrone will pay it back with ticket sales," said Frantantoni. "Now it's being torn down."
The Newark Bears, under Cerrone and two later owners, had been paying ECIA $60,000 in annual rent before the minor league baseball club liquidated itself in 2014. The stadium sat largely unused until the city approved Lotus Equity Group's Riverfront Square commercial/residential complex in 2017.
The stadium is being demolished as of deadline. County taxpayers are repaying the ECIA bonds at a $1 million annual rate.
Judge to East Ward: No Bottled Water For You
Lead Fears Spread to Luxury Building
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - A prestigious downtown address became the newest front in the City of Newark's fight to remediate its water problems here Aug. 30 - the same day that a court ruling had ruled on the water source which happens to feed that building.
Residents of Eleven80 - 1180 Raymond Blvd. - told outsiders Friday afternoon that its management company had circulated an e-mail telling them not to use incoming tap water.
"We elected to perform independent water testing with a qualified consultant," read the management message. "Last evening, on Aug. 29, we learned that this initial testing revealed an elevated level of lead in the water entering this building. We'll be providing alternative drinking water to all of our residents at distribution points within the building."
The e-mail added "further testing is needed" and "results may vary" caveats before asking that residents should not ingest the incoming water. Users should avoid ingestion while washing or bathing, let alone drinking, cooking, preparing baby formula or teeth brushing.
1180 Raymond Blvd., which opened in 1930 as the Lefcourt Newark office building, was converted into a luxury apartment building by the Cogswell Group in 2006.
Eleven80's 36 floors of former offices, after a $120 million renovation, holds 317 studio and one- and two- bedroom apartments, a health club, a bowling alley, a lounge, a laundry room, a media room, a basketball court plus concierge and local shuttle service. Monthly rent, as listed by apartments.com, range from $1,750 to $3,323.
It is not clear whether that Eleven80's renovation included replacing any lead service lines that may connect the building to a Newark Water Supply main. Replacing LSLs in Newark had been the property owner's responsibility - until recently.
The city started a discounted LSL program since October, when a majority of water samples found readings well over the federal Environmental Protection Agency "actionable" lead level content of 15 ppb. Property owners were to pay $1,000 as their contribution.
Essex County, as of Aug. 26, has offered to loan Newark a $120 million bond issue to accelerate the LSL replacement, which the city had pegged at $75 million and 10 years, down to 30 months. No current or applying property owners in the affected area will owe that $1,000 "contribution."
"Affected area" refers to the 15,000 LSLs served by NWS's Pequannock system which feeds basically the city's western half. It does not cover NWS's Wanaque system customers - mainly in the city's East Ward and the North Ward's eastern half.
City officials confirmed, Aug. 31, that Eleven80 is part of Downtown Newark that is fed by the Wanaque system. Neither Newark nor Cogswell have said what caused the Aug. 29 elevated lead readings.
Efforts by the Natural Resources Defense Council and New Education Workers Caucus to expand at least free bottles of water to Wanaque system's children under six years old plus infant, pregnant and/or nursing customers were setback by federal Judge Esther Salas' ruling earlier that Friday.
U.S. District Judge Salas, in her written ruling, found that NRDC and NEWCaucus had failed to show how those being denied free bottled water in the Wanaque service area are facing "imminent, irreparable harm."
Judge Salas added that the plaintiffs had failed to show systematic failure by the Wanaque system compared to the Pequannock system. The Baraka Administration's focus has been on the Pequannock system, particularly since the EPA showed the city that its 20-year-old lead-inhibiting silica additive lost its effectiveness in 2017.
Newark also had a majority of its sampled sites reading 15ppb-plus in five of the last six semiannual testing cycles. The Newark-authorized testing is done by an independent contracted laboratory every six months; its results are reported to federal, state and city officials plus the public every half-year.
Newark's Water and Sewer Utility had opened a $7 million treatment plant, which adds orthophosphate to the Pequannock water, in Montclair May 6. The city had also been supplying 40,000 free faucet or pitcher filters to Pequannock-served residents since October.
The city began its water bottle distribution Aug. 13 - four days after a sampling of three Pequannock served residences using filters found two with 15 ppb-plus readings.
"It's evident that we have been, are and will continue to move in the right direction," declared Mayor Ras Baraka that Friday night on the ruling. "The only permanent solution to eliminate the risks of lead is to replace every remaining LSL in our city. We're going to do so quickly and at no cost to residents through an unprecedented and aggressive LSL replacement program."
It should be noted that city officials have quietly allowed women who are pregnant, nursing or with children under six years old to receive bottled water regardless of city address the last two weeks. Acting Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem said the discretion does not signal a policy change.
NRDC and NEWCaucus, who started their suit against the city and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection 16 months ago, attempted to show the 25 15ppb-plus readings in Wanaque-served residences, sampled in June 2019, as evidence of needing citywide distribution.
The plaintiffs also tried to show that open interconnections between Wanaque and Pequannock mains had diluted one system's readings over the other. City officials testified that these interconnections have been closed since January.
"It's unfortunate that it took a lawsuit for the city to stop denying its drinking water was contaminated with lead," said NRDC's Erik Olsen. "Lead in drinking water is a citywide problem that requires a citywide solution."
"Newark and the state should care enough about our communities to provide bottled water to vulnerable residents in all neighborhoods harmed by lead in their water," said NEWCaucus' Yvette Jordan.
It is not known, as of 5 p.m. Sept. 3, whether NEWCaucus and/or the NRDC are considering moving their case against the city and the DEP to federal appellate court.
Baraka, on Sept. 1, announced the results of the latest water fixture tests at 1180 Raymond Blvd. made Aug. 31 and processed by an independent lab overnight.
The Aug. 31-Sept. 1 test results, said the mayor, showed that the building has "undetectable" lead content readings. By "undetectable," the readings are five ppb or less. The overnight results, furthermore, are "consistent with a test performed Jan. 10, 2019."
Cogswell, in a Saturday e-mail, confirmed to residents that city officials drew the samples in the presence of building staff before being sent to the laboratory. While the management said that "there's a testing protocol that has to be followed, as mandated by federal regulations," neither they nor Newark has said whether the lab is the same one contracted for previous city samplings or if it is DEP certified or not.
"Large buildings require larger pipes than LSLs," said Baraka Sunday.