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FED MONEY SPEEDS UP, NEW RULE SLOWS DOWN, LEAD REPLACEMENT

By Walter Elliott


NEWARK - The federal government, in a week's span Oct. 4-10, may speed up the financing of Lead Service Line replacement but more than double that replacement timetable here and elsewhere.


President Donald J. Trump, on one hand Oct. 4, signed a bill authored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-Newark) that will allow states to transfer up to $100 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. This transfer bill will allow locales within the "Local Talk News" area and across the country to apply federal money to their Lead Service Line Replacement Programs.


Trump's EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, on the other hand Oct. 10, announced plans to revise its 30-year-old Lead and Copper Rule. That revision includes lowering a water supplier's current seven percent annual LSL replacement requirement to three percent - which one group projects lengthening the replacement timetable from 13 years to 33.


Trump, from his Oval Office desk, signed the Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act Oct. 4. The transfer act allows each state who face a public health threat from lead in drinking water to make a one-time, up to $100 million transfer from the clean water revolving fund to the drinking water fund.


Booker, as a member of the U.S. Senate's Environmental and Public Works Committee, first drafted the transfer bill in December. He then asked respective Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Louisville, KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York City) to add the committee-approved act for Newark on the end-of-2018's spending resolutions. Booker's bill was left out of that spending list.


Booker then tried to add the transfer bill in July as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act - only for the NDAA to be blocked in the House of Representatives.


When Congress returned from their August break, Booker got his act passed through the Senate for a third time. He then got the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco, CA), Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch, NJ) and New Jersey's Congressional delegation to get the act passed last month. That state delegation included Pallone, Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-Newark) and Albio Sires (D-West New York) plus Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Paramus).


"I'm grateful to them many people who helped get this legislation over the finish line," said Booker Oct. 4. "Millions of federal dollars are now available to help communities fund pressing drinking water projects. The federal government has a responsibility to restore children and families' peace of mind and this legislation will give states desperately needed resources to repair and upgrade their drinking water systems."


The transfer act, according to an Oct. 8 EPA statement, only has an Oct. 4, 2019-Oct. 4, 2020 window.


States, with consultation with EPA Administrator Wheeler, can move up to five percent of what they have accumulated in their clean water safety fund. New Jersey's five percent amounts to $100 million.


The transferred funds, as per the EPA statement, may be used to provide financial support in the form of forgiveness of principal, negative interest loans or grants - or any combination.


"President Trump has made reducing lead exposure a top priority across his administration and his signature of this new law is yet another example of the ways we're providing communities with additional tools to protect their drinking water," said a spokesman on Trump's website. This new law gives our state and local partners an important flexible financial option to fund projects that will reduce lead in drinking water and promote public health."


Trump, while making no comment of his own Oct. 4, said the following at a 2016 campaign stop in Flint, Mich.: "It used to be (that) cars were made in Flint and you couldn't drink the water in Mexico. Now the cars are made in Mexico and you cannot drink the water in Flint. We shouldn't allow it to happen."


Payne's support of Booker's transfer bill may have fulfilled an Aug. 26 request made by County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo (D-Roseland) to the second-generation Congressman to "bring home the cash." DiVincenzo made his request to the only federal representative here in the Essex County Smith Building's Oliver Conference Center when the county executive offered Newark a $120 million loan to expedite that city's LSLRP.


How much of that up to $100 million will Newark and/or its water supply customers - including Belleville, Bloomfield, Nutley and Hillside - or beyond the "Local Talk" area is a question for Gov. Phil Murphy (D-Rumson) and/or his administrators in Trenton to answer.


States are left to allocate their transfer share to local-level LSLRP or related projects. Murphy, while proposing a $500 million bond issue for statewide LSL replacement Oct. 10, relied on water utilities' estimate of 350,000 such lines linking water mains to customers among 105 municipalities.


Murphy, on one hand, had based a 2029 LSLRP completion should the bond issue be passed by voters on the Nov. 3, 2020 General Election ballot.


The governor's plan, on the other, is only open to public or municipal water utilities. His EPA Commissioner, Catherine McCabe, gave a $2 billion replacement estimate last summer.


Any transferred federal money, in short, may not be seen by LSL-affected Local Talk area water customers. The funds may go instead to help pay back those proposed 2020 bonds - just like the $155 million from the Port Authority that Newark may use to pay back its $120 million loan from Essex County.


New Jersey's 350,000 LSLs are a fraction of what the American Water Works Association has estimated to be upwards of six million lines across the U.S.


Those utilities can take a longer time to replace LSLs, however, if EPA's 1991 Lead and Copper Rule revisions proposed by Wheeler Oct. 10 are enacted.


Wheeler, in a Green Bay, Wis. press conference that Thursday, said that the revisions include:


· Water systems keeping an inventory list of LSLs.


· Lower the EPA's "actionable" or "trigger" level of 15ppb of lead to 10 ppb.


· Utilities, should a test result read 10-plus ppb, must notify homeowners within 24 hours instead of the current 30 days.


· Utilities are to assist homeowners with LSL replacement.

"By improving protocols for identifying lead, expanding sampling and strengthening treatment requirements," said Wheeler, "our proposal would ensure that more water systems proactively take actions prevent lead exposure - especially in schools, childcare facilities and the most at-risk communities."

The LCR revision, however, would reduce the volume of utilities' annually replacing LSLs from seven percent to three percent.

That seven-to-three percent reduction has Natural Resources Defense Council director Erik Olsen translate to finishing LSL replacement from 13 years to 33. NRDC is a civil plaintiff against the City of Newark and DEP Commissioner McCabe over how the respondents have handled its water crisis.

"That's exactly the opposite of what we should be doing," said Olsen of the lengthened replacement time. "There's going to be problems with lead contamination so long as you leave lead pipes in the ground. That's exactly in the wrong direction."

The EPA is taking public comment over a 60 day post-National Register publication period with Wheeler presenting the final revisions next summer. Comments may be left at www.regulations.gov on Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0300.

NEWARK PHASING OUT FREE WATER BOTTLE DISTRIBUTION

By Walter Elliott


NEWARK - Residents who have been getting free bottled water from City of Newark designated points since Aug. 13 may be seeing fewer in supply as early as Oct. 8.


Visitors to three of the city's recreation centers in the respective South, West and North wards will no longer see bottles, either loose or in cases, like they have been used to.


Those who go to St. Peter's at 378 Lyons Ave., the Boylan Street Center at 916 South Orange Ave., and the Vince Lombardi Center at 201 Bloomfield Ave., instead, may still access free PUR water faucet filters and cartridges 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 10-11 and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 12.


Those three centers will also be returning to their normal hours as of Oct. 15.


Boylan is to be open 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. weekdays and 9:30-5:30 Saturdays. Vince Lombardi's open 8-5 weekdays and 9-6 Saturdays. Both will be closed on Oct. 14 and subsequent Mondays. St. Peter's remains open 24 hours except for closing on Saturdays.


Pregnant women and families with children under six years old may pick up two cases of bottled water every two weeks at either Newark Health and Community Wellness Department's WIC Program or the Shani Baraka Women's Resource Center.


Water at the WIC Program, 110 William St., will be available 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays. Thursday hours are 8:30-6:30. This center will also be open 9-2 every second and fourth Saturday of the month. Water at the Shani Baraka Center, 300 Clinton Ave., will be available weekdays 9-5.


The above, which had been spelled out in an Oct. 7 announcement from Mayor Ras Baraka, should come as no surprise. The mayor had often mentioned phasing out free bottled water distribution since he and Gov. Phil Murphy (D-Rumson) announced Aug. 23 preliminary results of the latest water tests for lead content.


Those test results of 1,700 samples - taken from among 300 faucets with the PUR filters attached late August-Labor Day - showed that these filters are 97-99 percent effective in bringing lead in water content from the 15 parts per billion federal "actionable" level to 10ppb or lower.


Although the tests' full report is still forthcoming, the initial results were positive enough for Baraka to seriously talk about phasing out water case distribution.


"Those numbers make us feel comfortable to move forward without bottled water," said Baraka Tuesday. "We did this out of an overabundance of caution when two of three filters we tested didn't bring lead levels down to the desired ppb. Again, I would like to thank the residents for their patience and understanding during this time."


The Mayor and Acting Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem had mustered cases of water since an Aug. 9 report of two of three water faucet filters tested having failed to screen below 15 ppb. This was after the city, last October, began distributing some 38,000 faucet and pitcher filters and launched its Lead Service Line Replacement Program among customers served by the Newark Water Supply Pequannock System.


Mayor Baraka wants residents and other NWS-Pequannock System customers to use the filtered water so that the orthophosphate additive the city has been adding to the water since May 9 can finish lining the new LSLs installed between the city's water mains and users' faucets.


City, state and federal officials involved with water quality and its testing believe that adding orthophosphate from Newark's new treatment plant in Montclair will help lower the ppb lead levels.


The USEPA and NJDEP informed Newark officials Oct. 12, 2018 that the sodium silicate that used to line some 18,000 LSLs, after 20 years' application, had lost its effectiveness. That advisory came while Newark water registered 15ppb-plus in a majority of its Pequannock-served sample sites five out of six times over three years.


"Our message is simple: the filters work - use the filters," said Baraka. "Continuing to use bottle water will in fact slow the additive's prophylactic coating."


The city's phasing out will not immediately affect those non-profit groups from distributing free bottles or cases of water on their own here.

ONE TOWN MAY REJECT NEWARK'S WATER OFFER

By Walter Elliott


BELLEVILLE - While some critics on how Newark has been handling its water crisis have taken their grievances to the streets or the courts, at least one public official has put his discontent on a highway-side billboard here as of 11 a.m. Thursday.


Belleville Mayor Michael Melham's message to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is for all Newark-bound motorists on Route 21 to see.


Although the digital billboard by 241 Main St.'s exact wording was not available to "Local Talk News" by 11 a.m. Sept. 25, it's message - as stated by Melham Sept. 24 - is:


"NJDEP: Before you spend $1 million on a PR campaign for Newark, spend that $1 million on water filters for us."


The billboard is to then direct readers to sign a petition to so influence NJDEP at FiltersforBelleville.org. (That website is to also be activated after 11 a.m. Thursday.)


The scheduled unveiling comes some 94 hours after Newark announced preliminary findings of its, DEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency's around Labor Day tests of 300 faucet filters it had distributed in the city's Newark Water Supply-Pequannock service area.


That 1 p.m. Monday conference - led by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Phil Murphy (D-Rumson) - announced that the PUR faucet filters freely distributed since last October and sampled late August-early September - is 97 to 99 percent effective in dropping lead content in water from the EPA "actionable" level of 15 ppb to 10ppb or under.


This is the same PUR water filter model that Melham has asked DEP Commissioner McCabe for - and was denied since Sept. 9.


Melham, who has been smarting from McCabe's denial, found some more mixed news for him and his township from Baraka himself Monday - had Belleville's mayor been there.


Baraka, mid-conference, announced that Belleville and Hillside will be part of Newark's accelerated Lead Service Line Replacement Program.


The Newark mayor's "Belleville and Hillside are part of Newark Water's infrastructure," proclamation sent "Local Talk" scrambling over to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) and State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville) for post-conference confirmation.


"This is good news for Belleville and Newark's water customers," said Caputo. "Belleville, Bloomfield and Nutley were offered the same program and financing by (Essex) County."


Belleville, Bloomfield and Nutley, whose residents are at least partially served by NWS-Pequannock, were open for some of the $120 million water infrastructure loan offered by County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo since Aug. 24.


DiVincenzo's Freeholder-approved loan to Newark calls for the city to repay the $120 million over the 30-year life of Essex County Improvement Authority-issued bonds. The county government and its AAA bond rating would serve as Newark's guarantor.


Newark, which would get the first of the $120 million in November, would use the loan to accelerate its Lead Service Line Replacement Program. New Jersey's largest city, by hiring more contractors, would shorten its original replacement of 15,000-to-18,000 LSLs used by NWS-Pequannock customers from eight-to-10-years to 24-to-30-months.


Melham and Belleville Township Engineer Tom Hertis explained to "Local Talk" prior to their Tuesday night Township Council meeting what that offer would - or would not - mean to Belleville. Their detailed explanation included that Newark's county-funded LSLRP would involve 50 homes from among 6,000 served by LSLs in the township.


"Belleville is the only town that is totally served by Newark's water," said Melham. "We own our own water infrastructure except in Silver Lake (in the First Ward). The 50 homes there have been part of Newark's infrastructure for a century and they are directly billed by Newark Water."


Melham added that it is his understanding that Hillside, in Union County, has a similar situation "with 60 homes."


Engineer Hertis is one official concerned that taking up Newark/Essex County's offer "would divide Belleville's homeowners.


"First, we only had a verbal offer and not one yet in writing," said Hertis. "There would be questions by homeowners outside of Silver Lake, asking, 'Why should they get their lines replaced for free and we have to pay it for ourselves?'"


LSLs, linking supplier water mains to buildings, are normally the homeowner's responsibility. The Newark Municipal Council, however, passed Baraka Administration-recommended legislation Sept. 18 allowing city workers and contractors to replace LSLs on private property without notifying the homeowners. Baraka cited a proportion of absentee landlords or owners, stemming from the 2008 subprime mortgage collapse, for bypassing notification.

Belleville's alternative, said Hertis and Melham, would be issuing up to $24 million in bonds. Melham said that there is no money in his town's budget for what he estimated as $450,000 for a filter distribution program.

"It's up to you guys," Melham told his six Township Council colleagues at their Sept. 10 meeting whether to take up Newark/Essex County's offer.

"Local Talk," outside of Caputo and Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin (D-Newark), was unable to find any elected official Monday afternoon representing Belleville and/or Hillside. (DiVincenzo was among the first officials to leave the conference.)

Melham told "Local Talk" that he found out about the Newark conference almost-after-the-fact.

"I wasn't invited," said Belleville's mayor on Instagram Monday. "The Governor's Office-organized conference call was literally going to end before letting me speak on behalf of Belleville residents. After I interjected, I was eventually rudely terminated."

Melham was joining the conference's videocast from his AlphaDog Solutions office. Melham is president and webmaster of ADS here since 2004. His own ADS account is paying rent on the digital billboard.

The above items are among the grievances Melham planned to point out at his Sept. 25 conference by the billboard at 241 Main St.

"I've a litany of things to say," Melham. "Belleville has rarely been mentioned or considered throughout this challenge."

“HOWDY MODI” AT NRG

In April and May 2019, Narendra Modi, his Bharatiya Janata Party and their allies won India’s election by a landslide. Then, both houses of the Indian Government, Parliament and Rajya Sabha, passed and removed Article 370, which gave special rights to Kashmir and its administration. 


India was giving four times more per capital money to Kashmir, but due to Article 370, the administration of Kashmir took advantage of it for themselves and the people stayed in poverty. Also, terrorists from neighboring Pakistan and the Pakistani-occupied part of Kashmir were controlling part of India’s occupied section of Kashmir. 


With the support of both houses, Modi’s government divided Kashmir into two regions, and gave the same privileges as other states in India to have their own people’s elected government. Modi is a fearless leader, and always dealt with bad elements. Per reports, India is the fasting growing county in the world.


Modi, who turned 69 on September 17th, is visiting Houston and became the first foreign leader to draw such a crowd. He will draw more of an audience at a rally in the United States of America than not only other foreign leaders, but any U.S. leader’s political rally as well. 


His “Howdy Modi” event will be at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on September 22, 2019. NRG Stadium has a capacity of about 72,000 spectators. According to the organizers, over 50,000 people will witness this grand “Howdy Modi” rally.


President Donald Trump is also set to join the “Howdy Modi” event. Some Democratic leaders will accompany Modi as well.


Saying “Howdy” is friendly greeting, especially in the western states of America. Houston is the perfect place for this kind of event.

MEDIA BARRED FROM NEWARK MEETING

By Walter Elliott


NEWARK - Some members of the New York-New Jersey media received a hard lesson late Aug. 27 that a public invitation made by Mayor Ras Baraka's office to City Hall here may not necessarily include them.


The latest episode in the mayor's relationship with the press began with the very last paragraph of an Aug. 27 statement by Baraka on Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo's Aug. 26 offer to loan the city $120 million in bond notes to accelerate its Lead Service Line Replacement Program.


The eighth and last paragraph of the statement, issued 12:10 p.m. Aug. 27, reads: "The City of Newark is doing everything we can to address this issue fir Newark residents. Today's announcement is a significant step forward in helping the City of Newark modernize our drinking water infrastructure, and (in boldface type) we invite residents to a meeting on Tuesday, August 27, at 6:00 p.m. in the rotunda of Newark City Hall to join us in getting to participate in the (LSLRP)."


"Local Talk" received the mayor's statement simultaneously with three other releases from the Newark People's Assembly 12:10 p.m. that Tuesday.


The NPA batch included a "Save the Dates" Aug. 27-Oct. 13 joint calendar - which did not include the Aug. 27 6 p.m. residents' volunteer sign-up rotunda meeting. The thinking at "Local Talk," at the time, was that the meeting was a late entry.


Several electronic and print media members who entered the rotunda before 6 p.m. that Tuesday, however, were told by the Mayor's Public Information Office staff to disassemble and leave.


TAPInto-Newark Editor Mark Bonamo said he saw television news camera operators leaving from the same City Hall Green Street employee side entrance he was entering. (City Hall's Broad Street/Gibson Boulevard main entrance closes daily at around 5 p.m.)


"We were generally shocked and surprised that we were not let into what believed was going to be a public meeting," said Bonamo Aug. 28. "We were told that this meeting was for residents only."


Bonamo shared his experience on NJTV News' Aug. 28 edition in a round table discussion with correspondent Michael Hill and Rutgers Law School adjunct professor and media attorney Bruce Rosen.


There are times where city departments hold meetings among themselves to discuss matters of a personnel and/or legal nature. Such discussions, where the Municipal Council is involved, are to be released at a later date when the subject matters are no longer confidential.


The city administration has held quarterly staff meetings in the rotunda which, except for the periodic sign board announcement, are not considered for public consumption.


Those holding a public event do have the opportunity to set ground rules for the public and the media. There had been advance announcements that the officials or speakers will not answer questions on a particular subject or not answer questions at all.


"Local Talk" has been present at events where a celebrity chef at a book signing will not talk about a failed television series or an actress who will not autograph a pictorial centerfold that she had done some 10 years earlier.


Baraka, while at National Action Network-Newark's water bottle distribution Aug. 24, refrained from answering questions - except for two sentences.


"This' his event," said the mayor while nodding towards NAN founder Rev. Al Sharpton. "There will be a major announcement by the Essex County Executive (Joseph DiVincenzo) Monday at 9 a.m."


That was the first public indication of DiVincenzo's Aug. 26 announcement of intending to loan the city $120 million to expedite Newark's LSLRP.


Rosen, on NJTV, said that the Baraka Administration could have set up a reporting pool for the Aug. 27 volunteer sign-up. One or two reporters could have been in the rotunda to represent the rest - who would watch from a closed circuit television feed.


All of the above could have been done in advance. It was not done for 6 p.m., Aug. 27, which led to Rosen's observation.


"Constitutionally, it's a public forum," said Rosen. "He invited the public and the media is part of the public. In fact, the media a representative of the public. You can't decide, 'In this public forum, you can come and you can't.' "


Newark Director of Communication, Frank Baraff, issued the following statement that Wednesday morning: "With the intention of facilitating a productive meeting and encouraging an open dialogue with volunteers, we chose not to open the discussion to members of the press so that residents will not shy away from helping us in these efforts," said Baraff. "We know how critical members of the press are to informing the public and will update you with additional information about our efforts to get our lead service lines replaced in the city. At future meetings, there will be media availability."


"It's confusing that you invite the media to a public event and tell them they're not," said Rosen. "It's indicative of a public official who is under pressure, who believes that the press will somehow distort the reporting."


The mayor, to be clear, has the power of the bully pulpit to clarify, explain and/or refute the accuracy of reporting. Baraka, as of late, has produced two social media videos related to the water crisis; one was a panel discussion update and the other on how it has affected his own South Ward household.


Baraka spent 11 minutes being interviewed on the water crisis by NJTV's Hill, which aired 5 p.m. Aug. 27. The mayor said several times that there has been "a cloud of doubt and confusion" that he and his administration have strived to correct.


"In terms of getting the message out, I'd give our work a 'C' - Average," said Baraka "What we tried to do is explain that it's the lead service lines, not the source of Newark's water, that is the problem. In trying to make that separation, maybe we could've done it better."


Baraka, in Hill's interview, responded to the part of the Aug. 24 "New York Times" article, "Tainted Water, Ignored Warning and a Boss With a Criminal Past," on Acting Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem's qualifications.


"He is a licensed water and sewer system operator and inspector," said Baraka of Adeem. "He is on a state water and sewer utilities board - but the reporters chose to leave that out. The media doesn't work for us, we don't send them a check, we have to get our message out."


The mayor, regarding transparency, also explained that they have to report their water tester's findings to the federal and state agencies - and publicly post the results.

"In terms of transparency and water management, we've been working to get ahead of it," said Baraka. "I'd give it a B, B+."