Newark lead water crisis: City council approves measure to replace pipes quickly

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- The Newark City Council unanimously passed a measure Tuesday to move forward with the replacement of lead pipes within two years.

The city will receive a $120 million bond from Essex County for the project to help speed up the process of replacing the pipes, which officials say are contaminating the water supply.

Without the county's help, the city says it would have taken 10 years to replace the pipes.

The deal comes weeks after high lead levels were detected in the city's water system.

The city has been dealing with the crisis for years. First, they gave residents water filters, but the situation escalated when federal authorities discovered the filters weren't doing enough.

It was standing room only inside the rotunda of Newark City Hall Tuesday night after the announcement of the bond program.

The city is making it clear it has to be a group effort. "We have 18,000 homes that we have to get signatures of, because we don't have the right to change people's service line right now legally without their permission," said Mayor Ras Baraka.

The city posted a call for help on social media, asking Newark residents to sign up to go door to door to get those signatures.

"We have a lot of homebound people and I'd like to volunteer my vehicle and services to get water to them, to get information to them," said Chaplain James E. Berry, a Newark resident.

"I see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Douglas Bell, President of the Ivy Hill Neighborhood Association. "I believe once we change the water lines and once the chemicals begin to work we will be able to solve the problem in Newark."

A number of residents at the meeting said they were eager to help, even though some said they didn't get what they came for.

"I'm more frustrated than when I walked in," said Newark resident Yvonne Patterson. "We came to get information, We couldn't even hear. There was no microphone. People were struggling, we had seniors who were standing on the periphery."

But the city says this is just the first of many information sessions to try to alleviate those frustrations.

"The whole issue is frustrating," said Baraka. "Lead service lines, lead in the water, there's a lot of misinformation. So people are frustrated about the different pieces of information they are getting. We're trying to make them clear, and ultimately what the goal is today."

Anyone who has questions or concerns can call the lead water hotline at 866-448-2432.

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