Jackson water administrator has ‘full power and authority’ over water system

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Water Manager Ted Henifin (right) and Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. (Advocate photo by Joshua Martin)

Ted Henifin was newly retired as the general manager of Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) in Virginia Beach, Virginia, capping out a career of over 40 years.

As a senior fellow of the nonprofit U. S. Water Alliance,  he found himself drawn to Jackson during the capital city’s water crisis that had attracted worldwide attention and brought hundreds of volunteer groups to help sustain the city and its 170,000 residents.

The federal government had declared a state of emergency on August 30 for the city of Jackson after the city and state had issued their required declarations. 

The Unified Water Command, a combined force of the nation’s top engineers in water systems operations, including the Army Corps of Engineers, got the city’s water cleaned up and running again at near capacity. Jackson, however, had been under EPA and Department of Justice orders to clean up its water for a number of years, and now was the time to fix the water system or lose control to the state.  State control of Jackson’s water was not an option that the city officials would willingly accept. 

The DOJ, the EPA, the City of Jackson, and the state of Mississippi agreed to a federal Interim Stipulated Order that was under federal court authority and signed on to by Judge Henry Wingate. It took Wingate only two hours to sign the order on November 29.

“The day the judge signed it, I became responsible for your water bill,” Henifin said. 

The City of Jackson and the Mississippi Department of Health, the agency acting on behalf of the state of Mississippi, “consented to the Court’s jurisdiction over the Stipulated Order” and any legal actions would come under the venue of the court’s judicial district. 

The court has suspended all litigation in the enforcement of the DOJ and EPA complaints against the City of Jackson for six months, which will allow time for the order to be implemented. 

Henifin reluctantly agreed to accept the position of interim third-party manager of the Jackson water system under the direction of the court. He insisted, however, that the people of Jackson should not be burdened with paying his salary. The feds agreed and will pay Henifin with federal money.

“There is finally light at the end of the tunnel for the residents of Jackson,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said on January 5.

The feds have since allocated $600 million as reimbursement for capital projects and technical assistance. An additional $200 million was also brought in through other programs.

Henifin says that he has 13 priority projects that he must complete under the Stipulated Order. While all are important and must be fulfilled within the first year of the order, some are more familiar to the non-technical reader than others.  Intake structure repairs, as one example, at the J.H. Fewell and O.B. Curtis plants, including sensors, chemical feed systems, valves, electrical components, screens, and physical structure must be maintained.

The Stipulated Order requires the manager, Henifin, to establish a Capital  Improvement Account for the deposit of all federal and state grants and loans awarded for the system improvement. The court also required the establishment of a Financial Management Plan for the short term (12–18 months); mid-term (1.5–5 years); and for the long-term, which will extend beyond the first five years. Henifin, therefore, will be accountable for the records of all expenditures and deposits. 

As manager of the water system, Henifin is recognized as an officer of the court and has the  “full power and authority” to carry out the requirements of the Stipulated Order.

Henifin is also required to meet regularly with the city’s Public Works director, although it is uncertain who will hold that position if Lumumba carries out his plan to restructure the Public Works office.  

“A big portion of the Public Works director’s responsibilities is now in Mr. Henifin’s hands,” Lumumba said. “We’re realigning the Public Works department and splitting those responsibilities. So, we may not have a Public Works director as you have formerly known that person to be positioned.  We may divide the divisions of responsibility and put directors specifically over those responsibilities, such as facilities or other areas of capital improvements.”

At a recent town hall in South Jackson, Henifin promised the audience that he was going to make sure they would never have to go another Christmas without water. He said that major renovations will be underway towards the end of January. The Jacobs company, the water operations and systems management company, is the main contractor and will bring in its staff and crew to sustain the system, he said.

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Jackson water administrator has ‘full power and authority’ over water system

By Earnest McBride
January 16, 2023