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NEWARK – They just got out of a briefing a shot time ago, Governor Phil Murphy, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, and an assortment of elected officials, as they try to address the crisis of contaminated lead lines in Brick City and the surrounding area.
There are 18,000 homes with lead service lines, 15,000 of them in the affected area where the corrosion inhibitor that coats the lead pipes so the lead doesn’t leak stopped working.
Authorites have introduced a new inhibitor but it will take months to start working. In addition, the mayor has bonded $75 million to replace the lead service lines that are not owned by the city, a program started this spring.
“We have over 700 homes changed so far; it’s going to take 10 years to change all the lines at this rate but that’s the permanent fix,” Deputy Mayor Rahaman Muhammad told InsiderNJ.
Filters and bottled water are the temporary fixes until the inhibitor starts working.
The governor and mayor convened this morning’s meeting to develop a battle plan and head off ensuing area panic in the aftermath of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announced findings of dangerous lead levels in the lines of three houses.
For starters, they want wider testing, and a big date sampling.
“We have to give that a chance,” Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28) – who was in attendance at the
briefing – told InsiderNJ. “I was impressed that everyone seems to be concentrated on this. The mayor, governor and county exec are focused and the next days are not time for panic but for more information. Everyone seems to be engaged.”
Caputo said he disagrees with his colleague, Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20), who wants a National Guard presence to help confront the problem.
But there were grumblings in the vicinity of the state’s political classes about why the EPA went live with its findings after having found results in the lines of just three houses.
Against the backdrop of Baraka’s severe public criticism of President Donald J. Trump, a presidential candidacy by Senator (and former Newark Mayor) Cory Booker with pincushion potential, and madcap pushing and shoving between Murphy and much of the rest of the Democratic Party establishment, suspicions abounded about the political motivations behind making Baraka look bad at this particular moment.
The mayor is one of Murphy’s most obvious (and important) political allies in a state where many elected Democrats have turned against the governor in the name of polishing relations with an establishment dominated by the brain trust of South Jersey power broker George Norcross III.
Norcross, of course, has his own troubles as he attempts to dig out from under an Economic Development Authority (EDA) scandal.
A perception of weakness in popular local leader Baraka – who beat a Norcrosss-connected candidate to first become mayor in 2014 – conceivably splashes on Murphy and Murphy’s future statewide designs. At the moment, Murphy and the suddenly-national headline-beset Baraka still appear firmly welded together amid intra-party jeers mostly directed at Murphy.