The Jackson City Council has named an emergency contract with WaterTalent, LLC, less than two weeks before the state’s emergency declaration ends.
On Thursday, the city council approved the temporary contract with a 4-0 vote, as the state plans to remove all efforts at the O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Plants on November 22.
Now, starting on November 13, WaterTalent will begin to take over operations at both plants through February 28, 2023, or until the city council agrees on an operations and maintenance operator.
According to the council, the contract will cost the city as much as $720,000 if a long-term contract is not made, with the first 10 weeks alone costing $400,000.
During the meeting, Ward 2 Council Vice President Angelique Lee explained that although the contract with WaterTalent is high, it is the only option the city has to keep water operations going after the state agencies leave.
“Our backs are against the wall. We’ve been doing a national search looking for Class A operators. That’s hard to find and we have been unsuccessful,” Lee said. “This is what is needed to make sure our water plant is running successfully… If the cost is high, that is what we have to do.”
Since late August, state agencies have contributed to the repair and maintenance required in Jackson’s water plants and infrastructure, with Governor Tate Reeves announcing the final extension to the state’s emergency declaration on October 28.
In mid-October, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba requested the emergency declaration to be continued in the city for six more months, as the original deadline was scheduled to be on November 17.
Instead, Reeves granted the city a five-day extension to find a contractor before state aid would be removed from both water plants due to the city’s issuing of its own request for proposals (RFP) days after the state released its own request for qualifications (RFQ).
“Jackson’s mayor has announced that the city will have a private operator in place by [then],” Reeves stated. “At that point, the state of emergency must, by statute, end as the water system can be managed solely by local control, as has been insisted on upon by the city of Jackson.”
At this time, the city does not have an estimation of when a long-term contract with an operations and maintenance operator will be approved.