Jackson City Council approves stipulated order with EPA, DOJ

Jackson city council (file photo)
Jackson city council (file photo)(WLBT)
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 11:59 AM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A court order approved by the Jackson City Council Thursday will give the city about a year to bring its water system into compliance with federal law, one council member says.

Following a two-hour executive session at a special called meeting on November 17, the council voted 4-0 in favor of an interim stipulated order with the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice.

The order, which has yet to be made public, outlines a number of steps the city must take to bring its system into compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

“The reason that all of this came about is we were in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act many times in the last 12 months,” Council President Ashby Foote said. “We’ve got to get with the program and get the water up to standards - to EPA standards - and that’s what it’s all about.”

Foote could not offer specifics of the order, but said it comes with a large cost, and will involve a third-party program manager.

“This is expected to be a year-long exercise,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

He said the order was amended during executive session, and that the city had to contact EPA and DOJ to ensure the agencies would accept the amendments.

“They were able to go along, and we were able to vote on it as amended,” he said.

For weeks, city leaders have been in talks with EPA and DOJ on drawing up an “judicially enforceable” agreement to begin bringing its system into federal compliance.

In September, DOJ told Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba that it was preparing to file legal action against the city, if the administration did not come to the table and work out terms of a “judicially enforceable” agreement.

“We are encouraged by the Jackson City Council’s decision to approve the interim stipulated order, which is a critical step toward delivering a sustainable water system for Jackson water residents,” said Maria Michalos, an EPA spokeswoman. “If the agreement is signed by the mayor, the next step would be for the Justice Department to file a case in federal court and ask the court to approve the proposed path forward. The people of Jackson deserve access to safe and reliable water, now and in the future. EPA looks forward to working across all levels of government to make that a reality.”

It was unclear how the order would be funded. Also on Thursday, the council authorized the mayor to submit a grant application to EPA for funding pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water Act and approved retaining bond counsel to “provide advice about the interim stipulated order.”

The council also signed off on retaining Susan Richardson and her law firm, Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton, to provide consulting services regarding the interim stipulated order. Richardson also is representing the city in the renegotiation of its sewer consent decree.

Present at the meeting were Foote and council members Angelique Lee, Brian Grizzell and Virgi Lindsay. Council members Kenneth Stokes, Aaron Banks and Vernon Hartley were absent. Hartley and Banks were not immediately available for comment.

Pending the mayor’s signature, the order will be filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Once it’s filed, the document should be made public, City Attorney Catoria Martin said prior to going into executive session. “We’re still researching whether we can disclose it before it’s filed,” she said. “It will become part of our record once the minutes are approved.”

WLBT has filed an open record request seeking a copy of the document.

“It’s probably one of the most significant items we’ve brought before the council in a long time,” Foote said. “It’s going to have a big impact, regardless of what ends up happening.”

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