Bill would provide Jackson with tens of millions in federal funding to restore water system

Bill would provide Jackson with tens of millions in federal funding to restore water system
Sun shines on the U.S. Capitol dome, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Washington. (Source: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WLBT) - Tens of millions of dollars in federal funding could soon be on its way to Jackson, through the Emergency Water Infrastructure Act.

Tuesday, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith announced that she had introduced the bill to help Jackson “overcome long-neglected water infrastructure upgrades.”

If passed, the measure would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spend $47 million under its Section 219 program to help Jackson design and construct “environmental infrastructure projects.”

The $47 million from Section 219 would double the amount of direct allocations the city of Jackson is going to receive from federal sources. Recently, Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which includes $46.6 million for the city.

“I cannot sit back and watch Jackson schools, businesses and residents go without water,” Hyde-Smith said. “Providing safe and reliable drinking water is a local responsibility, but there are federal programs and funds available that can be used to address these types of problems.”

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss. (Source: Graeme Jennings)

Hyde-Smith’s bill also includes new benefits for disadvantaged communities seeking to rebuild following natural disasters and would allow the city of Jackson to access “no less than $25 million in unobligated” funding from the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Economic Adjustment Assistance grants program.

The senator makes the announcement weeks after Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba sent a letter to Gov. Tate Reeves asking for his help in securing $47 million for immediate water repairs.

It also comes a month after severe winter weather crippled the city’s water production efforts at its O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. Nearly 43,000 connections were impacted by the storm, and residents were still under boil water notices Tuesday.

The bill would utilize resources from three agencies to help the city: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the EDA, according to a release from the senator’s office.

“The weeks of hardship on Jackson residents is upsetting and completely unacceptable ... but the hard truth is that the crisis was just waiting to happen after decades of neglecting necessary repairs and maintenance,” Hyde-Smith said. “It’s time to put that neglect behind us and work toward fixing the problem.”

It is not known when the bill would be brought up for a vote.

Meanwhile, the city could receive the first half of its American Rescue Plan funding in short order. The bill requires the U.S. Department of the Treasury to distribute at least half of the money to local governments no more than 60 days after those cities submit certification paperwork.

According to JDSUPRA.com, to receive the money, states and local governments must submit documentation to the Treasury to show that funds would be used in line with the Rescue Plan legislation.

Allowed expenditures include responding to the COVID-19 emergency, replacing revenues lost due to COVID, and “(making) necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.”

Jackson faces about $2 billion in water and sewer needs. The city is asking for help from state and national sources, citing the water crisis. Other asks include:

  • An additional one-percent infrastructure sales tax to cover water/sewer needs
  • $47 million for water plant/water distribution system needs
  • $15 million for additional water tanks in south and west Jackson and Byram

Previously, the city council voted to ask the state for $60 million to build additional water tanks south of U.S. Highway 80. At its meeting Tuesday, the council reduced that amount to $15 million, which members said would be enough to construct three additional tanks.

The tanks are needed to increase water capacity in southern and western parts of the city, as well as in Byram, which were among the hardest-hit areas during the water crisis.

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