Replacement of lead-based water lines on the horizon in Kearny

The Town of Kearny is making every effort to “get the lead out,” as the saying goes, but it won’t be easy or cheap to achieve.

Like other municipalities in New Jersey, Kearny has until 2024 to identify and replace all lead service lines providing water to residents and businesses under an executive order issued by Gov. Philip D. Murphy.

Using information from the town and its own research, Veolia, the successor to Suez, the town’s water service provider, has identified 133 of a total of about 7,800 town-wide water pipe connections as known lead and/or galvanized pipe, which corrodes after time, and all in need of replacement.

Overall, Veolia estimates that, because of the average age of Kearny’s housing stock, there could be between 3,000 and 5,000 compromised service lines around town and it could cost $25 million to $50 million to install new non-hazardous service connections.

Newark has had about 23,800 lead lines removed, at an average cost of $7,200 per connection and accomplished that at an accelerated pace of about 10,000 per year, spreading the work among several contractors, a Veolia representative explained at a June 28 mayor/council meeting.

Veolia, which has been entrusted to handle the job in Kearny, has been directed to submit a report to the governing body July 22 detailing how the company plans to carry out the daunting task, first, of getting access to property owners’ homes to swab the service line connection to the water meter to identify the pipe material.

Complicating matters, Veolia will have to find a way to convince owners to open their doors to the company’s representative to do the swabbing.  Third Ward Council member Eileen Eckel recommended the company consider taking an advertisement in a local publication to get out the word to residents.

Another issue Veolia will have to deal with is scheduling visits to homeowners, for swabbing and pipe switches, so as not to conflict with repaving work contracted by the town for 17 local streets. Officials are hoping to avoid having to dig up a street, initially, for pipe replacement, only to have to rip up it up again to resurface the street, or the other way around.

Stephen Marks, the town administrator, said there could be as many as 500 service lines spread among those 17 streets.

Meanwhile, there’s also the matter of finding funds to pay for the mandated work. At least 10% of the job must be completed each year during the 10-year period.

Replacing lead service lines, Marks said, is an expense eligible for compensation under the federal American Rescue Plan Act and Kearny has $1.5 million remaining in its allocation of ARPA grant assistance which the town could tap for a portion of the job, he noted.

“We’ve also asked our elected federal representatives for help securing funding and any and all available grants,” Marks said. “Bonding is a last resort … There’s no wiggle room here. We have to comply. This is an important health-related concern for everyone affected.”

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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York