JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - The City of Jackson faces hundreds of millions of dollars in EPA fines and improvements to its aging sewer system.
Council members voted to accept a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality during a special meeting.
Jackson will have to pay approximately $400 million dollars over the next 17 to 20 years in repairs and penalties.
The city is also accused of dumping raw sewage for several years into the Pearl River.
Officials said the taxpayers have spent $70 million dollars in sewer system improvements and $155 million on the water system since 1997.
Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said the capital city isn't alone in facing stiff penalties and improvement costs.
The mayor said the city's negotiating team was able to craft a deal with the EPA that allowed the city to pay less with more time to make repairs.
Johnson cited Baton Rouge with an EPA price tag of over $1 billion and Atlanta's payment of about $3 billion.
"It's a lot of money and a rate increase concerns me. It concerns people who are in the system, but we're trying to do all we can to make sure that we don't dig any deeper into the pickets of ratepayers," said Mayor Johnson.
"The Pearl River is actually something that's been happening for quite some time; however, just rest assured that if it was indeed as bad as the print made it seem, the EPA would have shut us down a very, very, very long time ago," said council president Tony Yarber.
The council has 15 months to come up with a plan to pay for the mandated sewer system improvements.
Mayor Johnson also said plans are on track for three departments to move into the Metrocenter Mall by October 29.
Monday, the council voted to accept three separate proposals to move the Water/Sewer Business Administration, the Department of Human and Cultural Services, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Personnel Department and the Public Education Government Network (PEG) to the Metrocenter.
The mayor told the council that inspectors had approved the completed work and employees would move in when the Department of Planning and Development issues a Certificate of Occupancy at the end of the month.
Johnson said a recently announced bankruptcy by California owners of the mall has no impact on the city's plans to move 300 employees into the former Belk's building.