Belleville mayor ‘refuses to be quiet’ about water crisis, uses billboard
BELLEVILLE — The mayor of this Essex County township is not giving up on his fight to secure safe drinking water for his constituents.
And now thousands of commuters on a daily basis will see his latest attempt to get the state's attention.
A mega billboard on Route 21, which was unveiled with a press event Thursday morning, is demanding the state Department of Environmental Protection provide water filters and replacement cartridges to tens of thousands of Belleville residents who use the same tap water as Newark, which has been dealing for weeks with lead contamination issues.
"I want to make sure the residents of Belleville are always thought of when anybody talks about Newark water," said Mayor Michael Melham.
According to Melham, Belleville is the only New Jersey municipality that consumes water solely out of Newark. Even the city of Newark itself, he said, relies on different outlets for water.
The billboard directs residents to sign an online petition at FiltersforBelleville.org. A social media campaign is launching as well.
The online signatures will be sent to DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe, who, according to Melham, told Belleville it's "on its own" in this situation. Melham said he's been silenced on conference calls about the topic, and he doesn't understand how his township is receiving no help while the state devotes $1 million to educate Newark residents on how to use their new water filters.
"I find that to be unconscionable," Melham said. "We refuse to be quiet."
When contacted by New Jersey 101.5, the DEP said it does not provide water systems with filters.
"The DEP supports local decisions to issue filters and will provide technical assistance in those instances as well," the Department said.
In the wake of its water crisis, Newark provided thousands of residents with Pur water filters for their home faucets. Recent tests have determined that 97% of the distributed filters are effective the moment the tap is opened.
Melham, who prefers filtered pouring pitchers over faucet-mounted filters, said providing residents with the items they need would cost close to a half-million dollars.
The billboard and social media push are costing the township nothing; Melham owns a web design and social media company, and the billboard company said the township can post public service announcements on their digital billboard for no fee.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.