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Federal officials to transfer control of Jackson sewer to third-party water manager

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and interim third-party water manager Ted Henefin (Photo by SuperTalk Mississippi News)

Jackson’s interim third-party water manager Ted Henifin is set to receive complete control of the capital city’s sewer system in the coming weeks, according to a recently approved proposed stipulated order.

On Tuesday, officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Justice Department, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and the City of Jackson agreed to put the order into place in an effort to expedite sewer system repairs needed throughout the city.

Under the terms of the agreement, the federal court would appoint Henifin as interim third-party manager of the city’s sewer system.

Henifin, who has been serving as interim third-party manager for the city’s drinking water system since November 2022, would also be responsible for managing, operating, and maintaining the city’s sewer system.

“Expedited measures will be taken to address the City of Jackson’s deteriorating sewer infrastructure and inadequate operation and maintenance, which have caused residents and businesses to endure sewage discharges that threaten public health and the environment,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division stated.

In late June, the Jackson City Council voted 6-1 in approval of transferring control of the sewer system to Henifin, with Councilman Kenneth Stokes casting the one opposing vote.

Since then, federal officials have motioned to place Henifin in charge of both the water and sewer in Mississippi’s capital city, saying that his implementation of programs and capital projects are expected to improve the sewer system’s long-term condition, operations, and maintenance.

“This agreement is an appropriate next step in our enforcement efforts to ensure that the City of Jackson lives up to its responsibility, pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and Mississippi law, to address and correct issues with its sewer system,” MDEQ Executive Director Chris Wells explained.

The agreement also acknowledges that the city failed to achieve significant progress under a 2013 settlement among the parties that was entered by the federal court as a consent decree and that the sewer system has further deteriorated over the last decade.

Jackson currently has numerous ongoing violations in the settlement, including several against the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the Mississippi Air and Water Pollution Control Law (MAWPCL), and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits associated with the city’s sewer system.

Now, Henifin will have the authority to do the following:

  • Operate and maintain the city’s sewer system in compliance with the CWA, MAWPCL, and NPDES permits.
  • Implement capital improvements to the city’s sewer system. This includes a set of priority projects to investigate and repair certain areas of the sewer system (including 215 areas previously identified by the city as emergency sewer failure locations), and certain repair work associated with the Savanna and Trahon wastewater treatment plants.
  • Implement or continue implementing programs to post signage about sewer overflows for which there is a reasonable expectation of public exposure; keep fats, oils, and grease out of the sewer system; and clean and inspect lines on a recurring schedule.

Under the proposal, the EPA, the Justice Department, the MDEQ, and the City of Jackson will resume negotiations within three years to modify the 2013 settlement to achieve long-term compliance with the CWA, MAWPCL, and NPDES permits.

According to the 56-page document, Henifin will be in charge of carrying out nearly a dozen projects named in a “Sewer Priority Project List,” with the estimated costs for the repairs totaling in at approximately $130 million.

Here’s the current list of repairs named in the agreement:

  • Queens Area Sewer Rehabilitation Project
  • Emergency Sewer Failures
  • Annual Sewer Cleaning & CCTV Contract
  • Investigate Service Request Locations
  • Mill Street Sewer Rehabilitation Project
  • West Bank Interceptor Rehabilitation
  • Savanna WWTP 100 MGD Peak Flow Wastewater Pump
  • Savanna WWTP Emergency Repairs/Replace Dewatering Equipment
  • Savanna Peak Cell Lagoon Cells
  • Trahon WWTP Rehabilitation
  • Savanna WWTP Phase 1B Type 2 Improvements

The majority of funding for the projects is expected to be provided through federal grants awarded to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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