JACKSON, Mississippi (WLBT) – Court records indicate Jackson is still not in compliance with his federal sewer consent decree, despite signing the agreement more than eight years ago.
A report from the August status conference found that the city had “made only limited progress” in implementing some decrees, while it had yet to start implementing other “crucial” elements.
Meanwhile, the report shows Jackson continues to tackle sanitary sewer overflows throughout its collection system, as well as banned bypasses at its Savanna Street wastewater treatment plant.
In 2020, Jackson reported 376 SSOs, which released more than 523 million gallons of untreated sewage into the environment.
And thanks to 11 other banned bypasses at the Savanna plant, an additional 6 billion gallons of partially treated sewage was dumped into the Pearl River.
By comparison, in the five years before the decree took effect, Jackson had more than 2,300 sewer overflows and many banned diversions at the Savanna facility.
Jackson concluded the executive order with the US Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency in March 2013.
Under the deal, Jackson would spend around $ 400 million to bring his sewage system into compliance with federal and state water laws.
Among the requirements, Jackson was to assess and rehabilitate its wastewater collection and transmission system, Savanna Plant and West Bank Interceptor.
The city has also been required to implement numerous programs to ensure the proper functioning and maintenance of the system, such as a sanitary overflow response plan and a FOGS program, to encourage and prevent companies from dumping fat. , oils and fats in the sewers. .
Jackson was initially given 17.5 years to complete the job.
However, according to court records, the city “has not yet started the crucial elements of the consent decree” while other elements “remain considerably delayed”.
“More importantly, the city has not launched the assessment of its WCTS – more than two years after the deadline to do so – or started the necessary rehabilitation of its WCTS.”
WCTS is Jackson’s wastewater collection and transmission system, which includes the underground lines that serve homes and businesses.
Jackson has made progress, including spending some $ 136 million on capital improvements to his sewer system. Jackson also made “timely” upgrades to his West Bank interceptor, according to the report.
The interceptor is a major sewer transmission line that runs along the west bank of the Pearl River. This is the main line that serves the Savanna plant.
Lawyers in the capital say they haven’t completed other work, in part because of “financial difficulties.”
These difficulties stem from the complications of its water billing system, the downgrading of Jackson’s bond rating in 2018, the declining level of taxpayer income and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jackson also cites the West Rankin Utility Authority (WRUA) decision to get rid of the city’s sewer system.
WRUA, which serves thousands of homes and businesses in western Rankin County, recently started using its own wastewater treatment plant.
Previously, she had paid the city millions of dollars a year to process the waste from the Savanna plant.
“The city says this will result in a reduction in the annual revenues Jackson collects to support its water and sanitation system and the consent decree,” according to court records.
Jackson’s financial outlook had improved, however. The Lumumba administration had settled its lawsuit with Siemens Industry for nearly $ 90 million. Part of that money was used to get Jackson to comply with his water commitments.
However, lawyers for the federal government appear to dispute that none of these funds went to work related to the Orders in Council. “After payment of legal fees, $ 59.8 million was available to meet some of the city’s obligations under the consent decree. The city argues that it was necessary to commit the majority of these funds to restore compliance with the restrictive covenants, pay off the city’s general fund, and repair the meter and billing system.
The city also told the court at the time that it was expected to receive some $ 42 million in US bailout funds, which it was still figuring out how to spend, including looking at “critical water financing needs.” and wastewater ”.
To date, the administration has spent only $ 12.7 million on infrastructure, including $ 8 million for the replacement of a 48-inch mainline, $ 1.8 million for appraisal services sanitary sewers and $ 950,000 for administration of the design and construction of the city’s water treatment projects. facilities.
Another $ 5.7 million from ARPA has been used to cover salary increases for police and firefighters, while the mayor hopes to allocate additional millions to boost economic development.
The city asserted that “whatever the final amount … intended for water and wastewater improvements … the city maintains that it will have financial difficulties in complying with the consent decree as it stands. is currently structured “.
Since its implementation, the overall costs of the decree have skyrocketed. Today, the city estimates that it will take nearly $ 960 million to bring the sewer system into compliance. This is in addition to the almost billions of dollars it needs to modernize its water system.
Jackson is currently in talks with the EPA to change the ordinance, with the EPA and MDEQ assessing the city’s financial condition. From there, the agencies “will assess (the city’s) proposed changes and (if) the parties are making good faith efforts to reach agreement on them.”
An updated status report is expected on October 29.
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