Jackson to spend $2 million on sewer consulting and damage assessments

Expenditures to help in city’s consent decree negotiations

Jackson to spend $2 million on sewer consulting and damage assessments

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Another $2 million in city funds are going to address Jackson’s sewer issues.

Recently, the city council approved several contracts related to consent program management and the city’s consent decree renegotiation efforts.

Additional moneys were spent to bring on an engineering firm to help determine how much damage was caused to the West Bank Interceptor during the February Pearl River flooding.

The latter contract is for $42,575 and was awarded to Southern Consultants to conduct a damage assessment of the west bank line, which runs along the west bank of the Pearl River.

The line is one of Jackson’s major sewer mains, which carries wastewater from neighborhoods in Northeast Jackson, Fondren and Belhaven to the Savanna Street Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Southern is expected to begin the work in late October, acting Public Works Director Charles Williams said.

He said the sewer main was damaged during the Pearl River Flood, when it was inundated by the high river waters.

The assessment is required to determine the extent of that damage and is needed so the city can receive federal and state disaster funding to help repair it.

“They’ll go out and do the assessment, take pictures, and that will be sent to FEMA,” Williams explained.

Hinds County was declared a federal disaster area following the February flooding. That month, the river crested at 36.67 feet in Jackson, the third-highest level in history, according to the National Weather Service.

Because of the declaration, the city is eligible to receive up to 87.5 percent of all disaster-related expenses reimbursed through federal and state dollars. Those funds will come through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Other contracts approved at the October 13 meeting include a $1.4 million agreement with Waggoner Engineering and AJA Management and Technical Services, both of Jackson, a $395,000 contact with Burns and McDonnell Engineering Company, and a $106,000 agreement with attorney Susan Richardson and her firm, Kilpatrick Townsend.

Richardson, an Atlanta attorney who specializes in environmental law, is helping the city renegotiate terms of its sewer consent decree with the federal government.

The city entered into the decree in 2013. Under terms of the deal, Jackson must spend hundreds of millions of dollars bring its sewer system into compliance with federal water quality laws.

Today, the cost to meet decree provisions has soared to around $945 million, an amount the administration argues that it cannot afford.

Richardson helping the city in its talks with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

The Kilpatrick Townsend contract will run through March 21. In addition, the council awarded the attorney an additional $33,000 in fees related to work done in the previous fiscal year.

The additional monies were awarded because billable hours associated with the decree renegotiations exceeded initial estimates.

Among reasons, the city said DOJ and EPA requested weekly conferences with the parties involved in decree modification talks. Also, the EPA and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) requested the city to amend and implement a plan to respond to sewer overflows.

Overflows occur when untreated sewage escapes the sewer system and enters the environment. Jackson faces daily fines for each overflow that enters a body of water identified as “Waters of the U.S.”

While the city is keeping Richardson in place, contracts awarded to Burns and McDonnell and Waggoner/AJA show that the city is transitioning back into local management for its decree.

The Kansas City-based Burns and McDonnell has been overseeing decree implementation since 2017. At its meeting last week, the council approved paying the firm for work that occurred in the first half of fiscal year 2020.

Public works is now hoping to keep Burns on through the current fiscal year to serve in a supporting role to Waggoner/AJA.

Waggoner and AJA previously served in a supporting role under Burns and McDonnell. Prior to that, the consultants helped the city in its initial decree negotiations under former Mayor Harvey Johnson.

Waggoner/AJA’s new contract is for four years, Williams said. Funds awarded by the council on October 13 will cover their work through March 31, 2021.

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