Small water line repair program slated to kick off next week, third-party manager says
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Contractors should be rolling next week on a project designed to address minor water main leaks across the city.
Interim Third-Party Manager Ted Henifin told the Jackson City Council on Wednesday that he had just held a kickoff meeting for the “Small Leak Find and Fix Program.”
“It’s going to be a rocky start. We’ve got a backlog of 300 known leaks and there’s probably 1,000 more that aren’t on anybody’s list because people have given up reporting them because we don’t respond fast enough,” he said.
Data obtained by WLBT shows that between August 1, 2022 and January 10, 2023, more than 800 water leaks were reported to the city through its 3-1-1 call system. The leaks represented more than a quarter of the calls reported during that time.
“We’ll be continuing to work all the leaks that we can find, and we’re putting in a work order system. So, when that’s in place, we’ll switch numbers for reporting water issues to a different number and a different call center.”
[Read: Belhaven resident says main breaks have gone unrepaired for a year, despite being reported to the city]
The small leak program is one of several efforts Henifin is kicking off in the coming weeks. He expects much of that work to be completed by early this summer.
“And then it’s a matter of keeping enough people to take them as they break, because lines are going to break,” he said.
He also plans to bring on contractors to repair larger main breaks, including a 48-inch failure at the old Colonial Country Club golf course.
He told the council crews were about to “pull off” a repair there to shore up a break that is causing the city to lose about six million gallons of water a day. Henifin says once that repair is made, it’s going to take a lot of stress off of Jackson’s main water treatment plant.
“It looks like a Coors Light commercial on the Rockies,” he said. “When you see this waterfall coming down, that’s all drinking water coming out of a 48-inch line that comes from Curtis.”
Curtis is the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. The facility is permitted to treat up to 50 million gallons of water a day but is currently producing about 32 million.
“About 40 percent of that heads out of this 48-inch line that runs basically to the west and away from Curtis. And then there’s a 54-inch line that has about 60 percent that takes us down to the Fewell area and then is pumped out from that direction.”
Fewell is the J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Plant. That facility is more than a century old and basically serves as a backup to Curtis.
[Read: ‘It’s just a serious problem:’ Jackson man says leak has gone on for three years with no relief]
Henifin says the break makes it hard to maintain pressure at Curtis, which has been the epicenter of the city’s water problems in recent years.
“This is a big part of our problem, a huge part of our problem, and we’ll probably find more,” he said. “But as we find those, the opportunity to close Fewell is becoming very real. We find 10 to 15 million gallons of leaks and fix them, we’re going to be able to eliminate Fewell.”
Henifin was speaking to members of the council’s Water Billing and Infrastructure Ad-Hoc Committee.
He was responding to a question from Council President Ashby Foote’s comments regarding the work being done in his ward.
“Northeast Jackson, my ward, has plenty of broken lines... and I’ve been really impressed with the one or two crews that seem to always be the ones [out there],” he said. “They work hard, and they come out and work through the night – whatever it takes to get it done. It just seems that we need to have more than one or two crews. It’d be great if we had five or six or seven or eight.”
Henifin says he’s not in a position to hire full-time crew members, in large part, because he is only temporarily over the city’s water system.
The 40-year public works veteran was named third-party manager as part of a federal court order handed down in November.
The order, which was signed by U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate, funded Henifin’s position for one year, but he expects to be in the city at least two.
To oversee operations, Henifin has formed JXN Water, an S-corporation. However, he has expressed concerns about bringing on current city employees, saying he’s likely only going to be in Jackson for a few years at most.
“Going back to the long-term, I can’t bring people on board, and the city doesn’t have the ability to bring people on board and assign them to me,” he said. “And then, there’s liability of running the city equipment. It’s all city equipment right now. So, my only option is contracting.”
Henifin has awarded numerous contracts since coming on board, including one to run the city’s water treatment plants to Jacobs Solutions. Under terms of that agreement, the company offered most workers on the city’s payroll full-time positions.
He envisions hiring a private contractor also to take over operations of the Water Sewer Billing Administration, or billing office, which also will offer positions to city workers in that division.
IMS Engineers, meanwhile, was hired to oversee the small leak repair program, while several small contractors have been tapped to make the repairs.
Under terms of the agreed order, Jackson is required to fund operations and maintenance, as well as major repairs. During this year, the city must transfer $15.9 million into an O&M account managed by Henifin. Jackson also must transfer $22.9 million into a capital improvements account, also managed by the ITPM.
Henifin’s first-year expenses are expected to run around $2.9 million, an amount that is being covered with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
“One of the benefits of the way the order is structured is I don’t have to follow state procurement,” he said. “I’m supposed to honor transparency and competition to the extent I can, but I’m pretty free to manage contracts and award contracts based on qualifications and not just on low bid.”
Some council members questioned some of Henifin’s hires, with Ward Six Councilman Aaron Banks worried there needs to be additional checks and balances.
Henifin, though, says he’s willing to give companies a chance, reiterating that he doesn’t answer to the mayor or council.
“I don’t mean this to sound bad, but I don’t work for you. I don’t work for the mayor. I don’t work for the state,” he said. “I’m trying to make sure everyone’s in the tank with me as we move along, but at the end of the day, I’m going to execute what I’m supposed to do in the order and we’re gonna try to work together to do it.”
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