Mill Street sewer issue delaying major Midtown development

Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 6:22 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Trey Malone says he was about two weeks away from bringing in a new coffee roastery and bakery to the site of the former Lucky Town Brewery in Midtown.

That was until he found out there was nothing that he could do to alleviate a myriad of drainage issues brought about by a nearby sewer main collapse.

“So, toilets don’t flush. Sinks don’t drain. We had a lot of floor drains that weren’t actually going out,” he said. “I’m at the perfect point in the perfect storm to where nothing in my building is actually going to make it out to the street.”

Malone, who purchased the former Lucky Town Brewery back in 2022, is one of a number of property owners in the area who are seeing sewage backups as a result of a sewer main collapse along Mill Street.

He has plans to bring a bakery, coffee roasting company, distillery, and bar to the former Lucky Town, and believes that can be part of a massive revitalization effort for the area.

However, he said plans are stalled until the sewer issues are addressed.

“The water is coming in, but it has nowhere to go... And there’s no blockage,” Malone said. “I’ve had many plumbers come out here, and every single line within my building, all the way down to the street, is working. But all the sewage and drainage [are] gravity-fed, and, so, if I’m at the same level as where the water level backup is, then nothing’s going to be leaving my building.”

The line failure occurred last spring. In April, a bypass pump that was carrying waste around the break also failed, allowing tens of millions of gallons of waste to pour into Town Creek.

In addition to not being able to flush toilets, residents and business leaders in the Midtown area have seen sewage back up into the streets. Along McTyere Avenue, waste flows from one manhole in the 100 block to a nearby storm drain.

Those incidents are known as sanitary sewer overflows, which occur when untreated wastewater leaves the sewer system and enters the environment. Under terms of its sewer consent decree, Jackson faces daily fines for each overflow that enters U.S. waterways.

City Engineer Robert Lee said the McTyere problem wouldn’t be solved until the Mill Street line is fixed. When those repairs are made, though, is unclear.

The city received millions in American Rescue Plan Act dollars from the state and federal government to do the work. And in the fall, the city advertised for qualifications for design consultants.

“Once the funds were awarded, we’ve got to finish off the grant agreement with MDEQ, then we’ll get the green light to go ahead and score the responding consultants and choose a preferred consultant to negotiate a contract and bring to the city council,” Lee said.

MDEQ is the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, which oversees the Mississippi Municipality and County Water Infrastructure Grant Program. The program was established to provide cities and counties with matching dollars for every ARPA dollar they used on qualifying infrastructure work.

Lee says a consultant should be in place in the next six weeks. He’s not sure when the design itself will be completed.

Work will include constructing a new sewer line under Mill Street, “all the way down to Bell Street” and creating a new crossing under the railroad to eliminate multiple sewer mains that cross under it now.

“The failures of the sewer line in that area are under the railroad and those cannot be repaired,” he said, “which is why we have to basically build a brand-new line away from the railroad.”

Meanwhile, a sewer pump that had been put in place to bypass the break had to be removed, in part, because it was no longer effective. “We asked the vendor to pick it up, [and] take it back, because it was not picking up any sewer flow at Livingston Street, which, in turn, was kind of causing other issues in the area,” Lee said.

Flushing toilets aside, the main break is a major environmental concern for the city. Since April, more than 20 million gallons of untreated waste have been released from the main break.

“If immediate repairs cannot be made to that sewer line, Jackson Public Works Department has a responsibility to utilize a sewer vacuum truck to clean the lines and prevent overflow to the community,” wrote Abby Braman, with Pearl Riverkeeper.

She said she was unsure if the city had the trucks to clean the lines. “According to [the] city of Jackson consent decree weekly reports, the city only has one vacuum truck, and that truck may not be manned with a driver with a CDL license,” she wrote in a statement. “It is unacceptable that the city does have the required equipment to service [its] sewer system.”

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