Council approves $8 million for filter rehab at Curtis; questions need for contract in wake of EPA order

O.B. Curtis Plant entrance
O.B. Curtis Plant entrance(WLBT)
Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 6:50 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With what could be a federal takeover of Jackson’s water system on the horizon, the city is moving forward with several projects designed to improve its water treatment plants.

On Tuesday, the council approved millions of dollars in contracts for the O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Plants.

The largest of those agreements was with Hemphill Construction for a little more than $8 million to rehab filters on the conventional side of Curtis.

Additionally, the council signed off on a $623,000 change order with Hemphill related to the installation of a membrane filter building, and a $21,481 contract with GlobalCare Support to provide updates and support for software used at both the Curtis and J.H. Fewell Plants.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes asked why the city was moving forward on those projects when it looks like a third party will soon take control of the city’s system.

“If there’s going to be a third-party person who’s going to oversee everything, why are we doing things before this person comes on board, who can change things that we’re doing?” he asked. “Why are we not waiting for this person to do the things that he’s going to do? It’s like we’re trying to step in front of him.”

Stokes was referring to the interim stipulated order approved by the city council last week. The order has not been released, per a confidentiality agreement between the city, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

However, some details about the order have trickled out, including the fact that the system will be put under the control of an independent third-party program manager.

As for the contracts brought before the council, “without going into a lot of detail about it, these are projects that the EPA had already... we had already identified, and that the EPA wants us to move forward with,” Deputy City Attorney Terry Williamson said.

Stokes also questioned whether the city needed to set aside what it was planning to spend on those projects for use by the program manager. “We’ve got to come up with money to put in these bank accounts,” he said. “This might be some of the money we need.”

The councilman was referring to what he said were provisions in the stipulated order which required the city to set aside funds in special accounts. What exactly that funding would be used for was not known.

“I can tell you that the money that has been identified for the accounts you’re talking about is money that is in SRF loans that we’ve already procured or ARPA funds that we’ve already allocated for projects,” Williamson said.

SRF loans are loans provided through the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund administered by the Mississippi State Department of Health. Jackson received its latest SRF Loan in 2021 for about $28 million. To date, none of those funds have been spent.

ARPA is the American Rescue Plan Act. The city has more than $70 million in ARPA funds available for water and sewer projects that has been approved for specific water and sewer projects. That amount includes the $35.6 million the city is expected to receive through the Mississippi Municipality and County Water Infrastructure Grant Program it was awarded weeks ago.

Council President Ashby Foote questioned how the projects were being funded, focusing on the $8 million filter rehab work. “So, is this being funded by SRF loans? What’s the nature of the funding for this in particular?” he asked.

Acting City Engineer Robert Lee said the funds were coming from the 2021 loan. “We’ve got several projects being funded out of this loan. Some are already under construction, some are in design, and some are bid out,” he said. “The filter project has been identified as a project that needs to move forward, and we do need to move forward on that.”

Work includes rehabbing two filters on the conventional side of Curtis, Jackson’s main water treatment facility. Contractors also will replace a drain line from the sedimentation basins to the equalization basins there.

Curtis treats water in two ways: through a conventional method, which allows water to settle in large basins before moving on in the treatment process, and through membrane filtration. In the latter process, water brought in from the Barnett Reservoir is bypassed around the sedimentation basins and pushed through membrane filters.

The other contracts approved by the council is a $21,000 software agreement and a $623,000 change order to Hemphill’s contract to enclose the membrane filters, a move that will better protect them during inclement weather.

According to city documents, “during construction, multiple issues were identified that require a change order to correct.” The change order adds another 120 days to the contract and raises its overall price to $3,879,956.52.

As for the software agreement, it is simply an annual renewal for software currently used at Curtis and Fewell. Lee told council members that he spoke to the incoming program manager, who said the city would continue to use the software once he is in place. “This... runs both plants and runs the wells, and allows us to remote monitor the tanks,” he said. “Without this, we cannot run the water system.”

Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.