Jackson sewer now under control of third-party manager

A sewer main overflow in Midtown Jackson.
A sewer main overflow in Midtown Jackson.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 30, 2023 at 6:06 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson’s sewer system is now under the control of Interim Third-Party Manager Ted Henifin.

On Saturday, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate approved an interim stipulated order placing the system temporarily under control of Henifin and his company, JXN Water.

The order will be in place for at least four years, and will give Henifin the ability to bring the sewer into compliance with federal water quality laws, while allowing the city to hammer out a new consent decree with the EPA.

[READ: Public comments show overwhelming support for placing Jackson sewer under third-party manager]

“Having raw sewage flow down the streets of Jackson is unacceptable. JXN Water is aggressively at work right now to fix sewer overflows and restore sanitary sewer operations,” Henifin said in a statement Saturday afternoon.

Sanitary sewer overflows, or SSOs, occur when sewage exits the sewer system and gets into the environment. It can do so through backups at manholes, through broken mains, and the like.

Since the consent decree was entered into back in 2013, billions of gallons of untreated waste have been emptied into the Pearl River and other tributaries.

Contact advisories urging people to avoid eating from, wading in or otherwise touching water from the Pearl have remained in place for years as a result.

“There are about 215 overflows right now across the city and they’re in neighborhoods where people live close by... you got businesses, cars driving through, people trying to walk their dogs,” Henifin said. “They don’t want to walk near this. It causes them to have to take alternate routes. It’s just a mess, and we’re going to get at it right away.”

This video from JXN Water shows several overflows across Jackson.

Duties of the third-party manager will be to bring the sewer system into compliance with the Clean Water Act and other state and federal regulations. Work will include a list of priority projects, including rehabbing the sewer system in the Queens area and addressing emergency sewer failures. A list of those failures can be found in the court order.

Estimates show the work will cost around $130 million. It will be funded, in part, with $125 million in federal funds allocated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) under the Water Resources Development Act, as well as $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds previously allocated to Jackson.

“This significant funding is available to improve the sewer system and water system provided the... Interim Third-Party Manager or the city enters into a project partnership agreement with USACE, then submits a work plan request to the assistant secretary of the Army,” the order states.

Before those funds are made available, Jackson or the ITPM will be required to provide local matching funds.

Henifin also will be required to pay bills related to the city’s sewer system, as well make payments on any existing bond indebtedness the city has incurred for both water and sewer.

He will be able to enter into contracts on behalf of the city to operate and maintain the sewer system, and hire contractors to help implement the project priority list. The third-party manager may continue with, modify or terminate any sewer contracts already put in place by the city.

Within 60 days of the date of the order, Henifin must update the financial plan he issued earlier this year for the water system. In 90 days, he will be required to meet with city leaders to discuss “the need to adjust the sewer service charge structure, the sewer service charges under the existing or a modified structure, and any fees that the city charges customers for sewer utilities,” court records state.

Other duties, as well as the priority project list, are included in a copy of the stipulated order below.

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