NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) – A project to repair thousands of lead-contaminated water pipes that are threatening the well-being of the people of New Jersey’s largest city is almost complete and is expected to be completed years ahead of schedule.

What began as another dark chapter has turned into a success story in Newark’s history, replacing more than 18,000 pipes.

It should take 10 years, but instead it’s almost done in just two years.

“I don’t think anyone believed that we could do so much in such a short time,” said Mayor Ras Baraka.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, lead in drinking water in the city was at dangerous levels. It was declared a public health emergency and residents were given filters and bottled water.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Newark water lead levels meet federal standards for the first time since 2017

It was a time of discontent and the only solution was to swap out the lead pipes – a daunting task to say the least.

“If you look at the mountain, you will be intimidated into climbing it,” said Baraka. “But we just went up, went up, went up, and now you look back and see how much you’ve done.”

Newark has become a national model for lead water pipeline replacement.

“We went through a storm and then the sun came out,” said Baraka. “Not all storms are there to wash you away, I guess.”

The city received $ 190 million from Essex County, the Port Authority, and the state and avoided collecting taxes or hiking water bills to pay for the project.

The strategy was to have crews that cover the city and get the job done.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Mayor: Newark Water Purifier Lead Removal Project 97% Effective

“So there could be 25-30 streets closed on any given day,” said Kareen Adeem, director of the Newark Department of Water and Sewer. “We went door to door, block by block, replacing lead service lines and giving them incentives. We needed them to do 25 lead service lines per contract per day.”

And they did it, in part, by training 50 Newark residents to get the job done. Christopher Nobles is an apprentice who was happy to make his town a better place to call home.

“No matter the circumstances, at the end of the day, if you really want something and have it in your heart that you want to do it differently, you can make it happen,” he said. “Everything is possible.”

Crews have had to pull back due to the pandemic, but now they are accelerating the pace and expect it to be ready in just a few weeks.

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