At the U.S. District Court in downtown Jackson Monday, Judge Henry Wingate approved putting even more of the city’s aging and broken infrastructure under the control of a third-party manager.
Ted Henifin, who is already overseeing the drinking water rehabilitation for Jackson, will now also take the reins of fixing the city’s wastewater system, which for years has plagued both residents and the local ecosystem with sewer overflows and under-treated discharges. In recent years, city officials estimated that the water and wastewater systems would each require about $1 billion to fix.
The parties in the city’s sewer case, which traces back to a 2013 consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, submitted a proposed agreement days ago. Mississippi Today reported details on the agreement last week. Wingate approved the agreement at Monday’s status conference, putting the sewer system in Henifin’s control for four years.
Before doing so, the judge asked Henifin if managing the sewer infrastructure would interfere with his work fixing the drinking water system, to which Henifin said no.
The biggest challenge, Henifin noted, will be procuring funds for the sewer system. As he took over the drinking water system, the federal government agreed to invest about $600 million into those fixes. For the sewer system, there’s roughly $140 million in available funds that was mentioned in the now-signed order. Officials Monday also mentioned roughly $600,000 that could be used to help Jackson homeowners make sewer repairs on their private property.
Henifin said a key step will be getting consistent revenue from water bills. He said the city’s current collection rate stands at just 56% as far as connections with accounts in the city’s billing system, adding that there are about 7,000 connections without accounts.
Henifin reiterated that his company, JXN Water, will soon shut off water to people who don’t pay their bills. He said that process will start with a 30-day notice for those “delinquent” on their bills, and then another seven-day notice before actually turning the water off. He added residents can negotiate a payment plan if they’re having trouble affording their bills.
The public has until Aug. 31 to submit comments on the sewer order, and Wingate, as WLBT reported, will consider changes to the order based on that input. Information on public meetings and how to submit comments can be found here.
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